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It's Time to Send "PreSchool for All" Back to the Drawing Boards
...and make Reiner's leave of absence permanent...

[by Jon Coupal and Tony Strickland] 3/21/06

It is remarkable how a committee of so many well-intentioned people can produce a disaster as uniformly flawed as Proposition 82, the "PreSchool for All" ballot measure on this November's California ballot. If there is fault to be found -- and there is -- it rests squarely on the shoulders of Proposition 82's huckster-in-chief Rob Reiner.

While no one can deny Reiner's commitment to his utopian schemes, like many who presume to know what's best for the rest of us, Reiner has scarcely encountered a corner he hasn't cut. To date, he stands accused of:

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]

1) Funnelling $23 million of public tax dollars into a television advertising campaign advocating "PreSchool for All" which, coincidentally, aired precisely while he was circulating a political ballot measure of the same name;

2) Putting his political advisers on the public payroll to the tune of $206,000, again paid for with taxpayers' money;

3) Awarding massive multi-million dollar no-bid contracts from taxpayers' money to political cronies who -- again coincidentally -- just happened to work for one or more of Reiner's political operations;

4) And, in short, treating the hundreds of millions of tobacco tax dollars that were supposed to go to health programs like a personal slush fund, to be doled out whenever and to whomever he chooses.

Reiner has attempted to duck the firestorm by taking a "leave of absence" from the "First 5" Commission, and one of his political advisors, Ben Austin, who pocketed $110,000 on the public payroll at First 5 before becoming campaign manager for the Proposition 82 campaign, remains on the political payroll but will no longer be called the campaign manager. The stench of cronyism and corruption not only lingers, it permeates the atmosphere surrounding Proposition 82.

To put it bluntly, it is time to go back to the drawing boards.

If the goals of Proposition 82 are worthy, then what little time is lost in refiling the initiative and qualifying it for a later ballot will be more than offset by separating the ideas from the botched, fatally-flawed manner in which taxpayers' funds were misspent.

Better than that, there are alternative proposals that would direct pre-school dollars to where they are needed most: to disadvantaged youth who currently have no access to preschool. Assembly Bill 2150 introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy would do just that. It would expand the highly successful Ready to Start Program currently in place in Bakersfield and other communities. Its five-week intensive curriculum prepares kids just as effectively -- if not more so -- than Reiner's vision of a full year program, and does so at a fraction of the cost.

This is not a partisan battle, and it should not become one. Republican and Democratic leaders are alike demanding that the First 5 Commission be audited. Legislative leaders are pushing for legislative oversight hearings, as was done when a far smaller amount of money was misappropriated during the Quackenbush scandal.

It is also noteworthy than when the sum of several thousand dollars was spent by a government agency on producing video news releases that were more public relations than substance, State Controller Steve Westly launched an immediate audit. Today, hundreds of millions in taxpayers' money is being misspent to promote an initiative campaign without the slightest suggestion that the expenditures are anything but political.

It's time for the Governor to announce his replacement for Reiner on the Commission, for the Legislature to convene oversight hearings, and for Controller Steve Westly to do his job and stop this outrage before another dime is spent. CRO


Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Tony Strickland is the Taxpayer Advocate for Club for Growth.

copyright 2006 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association



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