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What Does It Say?

December 12, 1987

The envelope arrived at a friend's house this week with the tax rebate from the state of California. The amount was $136. For others the amount will vary from a minimum of $32 for single people to a maximum of $272 for couples.

This woman looked at the check and thought about how many Christmas presents it would buy. Then she remembered the debate between the Legislature and the governor over whether this $1 billion ought to be spent on educating California's children or returned to taxpayers. She started to wonder why she had received $136, which won't even pay her belligerent cat's latest veterinary bill. She knew that most people who really could use the money to buy necessities wouldn't get much, if anything. So what else, she thought, could the state have done with this money if it hadn't felt compelled to rebate it?

Even at today's book prices, her $136 could have bought a handful of novels and histories for children at an Eastside school. Her $136 and that of many other people could keep libraries open longer hours, or help Shasta County reopen its library.

At $14 a night, her $136 could provide shelter for a homeless person for almost 10 wintry nights. Her $136 and that of three other Californians could pay for a rape examination to collect evidence to help convict a rapist--an exam that some local hospitals aren't performing now because it costs too much.

Her $136 and that of seven other Californians could provide complete prenatal and delivery care for a mother and her developing baby for nine months. That care doesn't ensure that a child isn't born prematurely, but it surely improves the odds. And it saves money, because it costs an average of $19,000 when a newborn must be treated in a hospital's intensive-care unit.

What, she wondered, does it say about a state that writes laws that return money to people when others need better schooling, better housing, better health care--or even health care, period? What is the point of a government, she asked, that doesn't care for the youngest and the neediest, especially just before Christmas?

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