Monday. March 19, 2007
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Share the Poverty
By JON COUPAL
After the bill that would have criminalized spanking was withdrawn as part of Sacramento lawmakers’ efforts to showcase their best behavior while their allies fire up an initiative campaign to extend term limits, many Californians thought they would be safe for a while from whacko legislation.
But Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, and Sen. Bob Dutton, a Republican, in an expression of “post-partisan” zaniness, have introduced the mother of all kooky bills, a measure to give every child born in California $500. To his credit, negative public reaction has prompted Dutton to reconsider, and he has dropped off the bill citing its high cost at a time when the state is facing a deteriorating revenue situation. However, the bill lives on.
In the past, we have seen lawmakers introduce loony legislation — like making the banana slug the state mollusk — but since there was little expense or chance of passage, they were almost worth the chuckle they gave us.
In this case, providing a $500 savings account to every child, needy or not, would cost taxpayers nearly $300 million annually, money desperately needed for vital programs like health care, education, law enforcement and transportation.
Now, most of us understand there is an ongoing breast-beating contest in Sacramento where each lawmaker tries to show that he or she cares the most about children. The governor has already weighed in with his $12 billion health insurance proposal. Politicians understand that issues related to children always get good press regardless of whether or not the policy being proposed makes sense. They know they can’t go wrong with “motherhood and apple pie.”
But let’s be serious, $500 for every baby, regardless of parental income? If this bill were in effect, the well-publicized child of Tom Cruise and his wife would get $500 from taxpayers as would the children of other wealthy couples.
And although the initial $500 would have to be repaid when the child reached 18, a time when, due to inflation, the initial investment could be worth several hundred dollars less, the interest belongs to the young adult to use for education or buying a house. However, the net interest accrued will be no more than a few hundred dollars, which buys little house or education.
If lawmakers really wanted to help young people with education, why not provide more generous tuition discounts to our state university and community college systems on a needs adjusted basis. Better yet, let’s help the parents by taxing them less so that their choices for educational opportunity for their children are expanded. Helping 18-year-olds access higher education would increase their income potential, which in turn would help them buy a home at their own, not taxpayers’, expense.
There is an additional concern about this and other unrestricted government giveaway programs.
In the early 1990s, due to California’s generosity to all comers, the state had the reputation for being the nation’s number one welfare magnet. Although reforms have dimmed the allure slightly, ideas like $500 per child, free insurance and other perks, combined with good climate and our friendly attitude, have drawing power for the poor of other states and countries.
Darrell Steinberg has already accused those opposing his $500 plan of bigotry, proving once again that one is not allowed to question a program providing additional benefits to illegal immigrants on its merits, or lack of, without the proponents playing the race-card.
Be that as it may, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the state is experiencing a net out-migration of citizens. Those replacing them are often at the lowest end of the economic spectrum. This means that the number of those who need services is expanding while the pool of those paying the bills is remaining static or declining.
No matter how well intentioned some of these social welfare programs may be, someone will have to pay the bill. Californians should be weary of being the state that provides newcomers with the biggest Welcome Wagon basket of goodies. Instead of sharing the wealth, we are merely ensuring that poverty will be distributed equally.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company