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As Humanitarians, Reiner, Hastings, Don't Measure Up
A new class of self-appointed…

[by Jon Coupal] 3/7/06

They don't make humanitarians like they used to.

Ten years ago, if someone were asked for an example of a humanitarian, chances are Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to helping the poor, would come to mind.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who brought modern medicine to a remote area of Africa, was a humanitarian icon. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 he used the $33,000 to expand his hospital and build a leper colony.

Jon Coupal

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

One hundred years ago, Andrew Carnegie was busy giving away a fortune, much of it to public libraries and education. The Scottish immigrant made his money in the steel industry. At the time of his retirement in 1901, he was recognized as the world's richest man. By the time of his death, nearly two decades later, he had dispensed 90 percent of his fortune.

What all these great humanitarians have in common is that they all gave freely of themselves and their fortunes, no matter how great or meager, to aid others.

While, today, there are no doubt millions of people who strive to do good for others, most labor in anonymity.

However, in California, we are now seeing the rise of a new class of self-styled humanitarians, who, instead of giving of themselves for what they perceive to be a worthy cause, have chosen to misuse the initiative process to compel others to give. The two individuals who stand out for the most adroit use of this "humanitaxian" approach are actor-director Rob Reiner and Reed Hastings, whose DVD rental company Netflix provides his foundation of support.

Hiram Johnson, the father of the initiative, referendum and recall in California, said that the intent of these measures was to " in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves." The initiative process made the people the legislature of last resort when elected lawmakers proved too corrupt, too incompetent or too indolent to properly conduct the peoples' most important business.

Proposition 13 was a classic example of the proper role of the initiative. Using it, voters were able save their homes when the Legislature refused to take action.

However, in recent years, Reiner, Hastings and other "do-gooders" have seized upon the initiative process as a way to fund their pet causes. In 1998, Reiner succeeded in placing on the ballot the Californian Children and Families Act, Proposition 10, which raised taxes on tobacco products to fund child development programs. Since smokers now enjoy the status that lepers held in the Middle Ages, the measure passed.

In the year 2000, Reed Hasting backed two measures to make it easier to increase property taxes for school bonds. Tapping his billionaire Silicon Valley colleagues, his campaign spent $60 million with the eventual result that Proposition 39 was narrowly passed and ordinary homeowners are now paying billions more in property taxes.

In 2004 Reiner was back, this time with the California Teaches Association, promoting a ballot measure that would have increased property taxes for education. After spending $2.5 million to gather signatures for a measure that would have cost taxpayers $10 billion annually, backers were made aware of fatal drafting errors and the effort was suspended.

This year both Reiner and Hastings are back. For the June ballot, Reiner has qualified Proposition 82 that would increase taxes on high income Californians to provide preschool for all at a cost estimated by the Reason Foundation of $109,000 per year for each additional child that the program would cover. Reiner is now embroiled in a well-justified controversy because the First Five Commission, which he chairs and is supported by revenue from the Proposition 10 tobacco tax, spent $23,000,000 taxpayers dollars in advertising to promote universal preschool while signature gatherers were working to place Proposition 82 on the ballot.

Hastings, meanwhile, has begun the process to qualify for the ballot the Classroom Learning and Accountability Act, which would establish a universal statewide property tax. Under his plan, a Silicon Valley billionaire in his mansion, a retired couple in a bungalow, and newlyweds in a tract home would all pay the same amount.

Both Reiner and Hastings could have chosen another path and received the acclaim of the community. Each could, no doubt, afford to endow scholarships, and each could use their fame and wealth to speak out to require greater accountability for the billions of dollars -- over half the state budget -- that we already spend on education.

Instead, they have become self-appointed experts on what our children need, and they are determined that others will pay to see that their visions are realized. CRO

copyright 2006 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association



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