To-do list

View from the Hill: Bites spent last week’s column bemoaning the fact that booming California has neglected the needs of its underclass, and that if the governor and Legislature don’t do something about it, there could be nasty social and political costs to pay.

Bites has a few ideas for addressing the problem, but if the Legislature is looking for something more specific than these populist rants and for something less radical than nationalizing the portfolios of selected greed-heads, then the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) is a good place to start.

Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill has released her office’s annual list of recommended legislation for the new session. Most of the 39 suggestions are fairly specific and wonky, but there are also some key tools in there for fixing what ails California’s underclass.

Federal efforts to “end welfare as we know it” resulted in requirements that even single moms with children under six years old work at least 20 hours per week to qualify for any kind of assistance.

But showing just how tough we can be with our poor single mothers, California adopted a tougher requirement in its 1999 California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS) program that single moms work at least 32 hours a week.

The LAO urges the Legislature to scale back that requirement to 20 hours, noting California’s high child-care costs. Bites would also note that being a mother is at least as important a role in society as flipping our burgers, or any of the other menial jobs that we now insist poor single mothers take.

The LAO would also attack the problem of California’s lack of affordable child care by creating a subsidized child-care system for poor families, similar to a successful program now operating in Wisconsin.

In addition, low-income families would have expanded health-care coverage if we just decided to let the LAO run things for a while. They recommend bringing an additional 770,000 poor people under the state’s subsidized medical care umbrella, at an annual cost of $200 million.

Yet, all of the LAO’s good recommendations aren’t left-leaning ideas aimed at helping California’s forgotten poor. The report also recommends increasing out-of-state tuition in the University of California system, levying fire protection fees on rural residents, encouraging educational innovations, reforming the Prison Industry Authority and enacting “polluter pays” fees.

At a terse 42 pages, “LAO Recommended Legislation” should be on the must-read list for all legislators, at least those concerned more about the people of California than their political self-interest. Check it out at

Celebrating wealth: Some days, it seems to Bites that rich people are the root of all evil in American society. Why, if it weren’t for the greedy hording of wealth, every American could have their basic needs met, and be free to self-actualize in their own individual ways.

But then, on rare occasions, some rich guy or gal does something that makes Bites smile with appreciation at the noble idea of philanthropy. Bites smiled one of those smiles upon hearing that the YWCA of Sacramento has been saved by a quarter-million-dollar anonymous donation.

YWCA had been struggling in recent years, and was surviving on a $250,000 loan against its majestic old building at 1122 17th Street. It had even taken to renting the hall out for cash, a solution that created a new set of problems last year when a near-riot broke out during a concert.

Yet the donation puts the 109-year-old organization on more solid financial footing, allowing the YWCA to continue its many good programs catering to the needs of low-income women and families.

May this donor receive all the positive karma in 2001 that he or she rightfully deserves.