March 5, 2006
California Voters, Beware
California voters, beware.
a new trend with ballot initiatives. Rich guys raise money to
put pet measures on the ballot. Voters approve the measures. Rich
guys acquire petty fiefdoms that put buckets of government dollars
under their thumbs.
developer Robert Klein spearheaded the 2004 campaign for Proposition
71, the $3 billion stem-cell research measure. Wonder of wonders:
Klein became chairman of the board that oversees the stem-cell
program, campaign staffers got jobs with the new bureaucracy,
and the legislature learned that, despite campaign rhetoric about
sharing profits with taxpayers, Team Klein valued "the need
to assure that essential medical research is not unreasonably
hindered by intellectual property agreements."
however, is about actor-activist Rob Reiner. In 1998, Reiner sponsored
Proposition 10, which taxed California smokers an extra 50 cents
per pack in order to fund early childhood education programs.
Voters bit, and voila, Reiner became chairman of the state's First
5 California Children and Families Commission, which controls
20 percent of Proposition 10 receipts.
was well rewarded. Last month, the Los Angeles Times
reported that First 5 spent $230 million -- of the $800 million
it has controlled -- on advertising and public relations contracts
with firms that had worked on the Proposition 10 campaign. (First
5 Executive Director Kris Perry wants you to know that most of
the $230 million went to TV stations, newspapers and other media
-- not to the ad agencies.)
also reported that, at the very time Reiner was working to qualify
his latest brainchild, "Preschool for All," which will
be Proposition 82 on the June ballot, First 5 spent some $23 million
on ads to promote -- you guessed it -- pre-school for all.
no-no. State money is not supposed to bankroll political campaigns.
he was taking leave from the post "to avoid any political
distractions." Taking leave? That's sweet, considering that
Reiner's tenure for the post expired in 2004. He is chairman only
because -- for some reason lost on Sacramento Republicans -- Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has not replaced him.
plans on returning to his throne after the election, although
Schwarzenegger's office issued a statement Friday that noted,
"There is no express provision for a leave of absence"
for Reiner. Lawyers are looking at it.
state Senate leader Don Perata withdrew his support for Proposition
82. Perata noted that the $23 million campaign was "over
the line" and "a blatant effort to promote the initiative."
More importantly: Proposition 82 is a bad idea.
wrote to Reiner, "The initiative pays more per pupil for
a three-hour educational program than many K-12 schools are able
to pay for a full school day." (Proposition 82 spokesman
Nathan James responded, "If you create a program that's not
well funded, you don't end up getting the benefits.")
noted that Proposition 82 would force public schools to compete
for credentialed teachers. And: Trendy propositions that levy
new taxes for pet programs are "one of the principle reasons
why state government can't function effectively."
usually agree with Perata, a liberal Democrat, but on all of the
above, he is on the money.
other problems with Proposition 82. Many preschool operators oppose
the Reiner measure because -- oh, joy -- it will bureaucratize
a gift for finding a way to tax a minority of Californians (smokers,
the rich) to pay for a program that is supposed to be great for
everyone -- not that everyone should have to pay for it. Proposition
82 would raise some $2.6 billion annually by imposing a 1.7 percent
tax on individuals who make more than $400,000 annually or couples
who make more than $800,000.
picked a highly volatile revenue stream, that booms and busts
with the economy, to fund a permanent program. Worse, some millionaires
likely will decide to leave California -- not just because of
this 1.7 percent levy, but also because in 2004, voters approved
a measure to add a 1 percent tax on income over $1 million for
to the state Department of Finance, earners with incomes over
$1 million filed 0.2 percent of tax returns in 2003, but generated
24.2 percent of all personal income tax. That's $7.3 billion.
the 82 camp, is sure that these taxes "would not cause people
to pull up stakes and abandon California." Apparently, James
has never been to Florida. Or Nevada.
of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell is a big Proposition 82 supporter.
He told me, at "first blush, I really do not see a big problem"
with the $23 million preschool ads, as he believes they caused
preschool enrollment to rise.
GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, however, does see a
problem. "Instead of lining the pockets of wealthy Los Angeles
advertising executives," McCarthy said in a statement, he
has a bill that would set aside $42 million from the First 5 administrative
and advertising budget and spend it on accelerated preschool programs.
McCarthy understand that Reiner knows what's best for other people?
Why, Reiner knows that all children are better off in a preschool
program than at home. He knows that state taxpayers should pay
double what the state pays for preschool, and improvements will
follow. He knows that millionaires won't leave if faced with another
soak-the-rich tax. In fact, Reiner knows so much, his First 5
fiefdom didn't hesitate to spend $23 million of state money to
tell you how to think about preschool.
2006 Creators Syndicate