Behind scenes of Reiner’s Prop. 82

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The cast of characters at movie director Rob Reiner’s home was like no other. Labor leaders sat across the table from the state’s business elite. Republicans chatted with Democrats, and multimillionaires schemed with early childhood education experts in the screening room of Reiner’s Brentwood home in September 2004. Reiner gave his handpicked cast directions: They were to work out their differences and craft an initiative creating and paying for preschool for all the state’s 4-year-olds. Thus began an innovative, seven-month process that produced Proposition 82, the measure on the June 6 ballot seeking to raise taxes on wealthy Californians to pay for universal preschool. “There were a lot of contentious moments and people struggling with the issues,” Reiner said. “But at the end of the day, people’s better angels came through.” He claims this “painstaking” process produced the “most scrubbed piece of legislation” ever for an initiative. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata disagreed this week, saying he was withdrawing his support from Proposition 82 because of its “fatal” flaws. The Oakland Democrat called the initiative a “boon” to middle- and upper-income families because it would provide free preschool to all 4-year-olds by 2010. He also complained that it would lock up $2.4 billion a year in potential tax revenues that could be used for K-12 education and other public services. Perata knew of Reiner’s drafting team but said they shouldn’t replace lawmakers, who are elected to “make representative decisions.” “A bunch of people who get together and can figure out how to agree with each other, that’s wonderful,” he said. “But play poker, play canasta. Don’t do initiatives.” Joel Fox, co-chairman of the Stop the Reiner Initiative campaign, said Reiner reached out “for political reasons to try to limit the opposition” rather than to develop good public policy. Reiner said enlisting business, labor and others produced “better public policy.” But even those who helped write the measure say it isn’t perfect. “Is it exactly everything the (California Teachers Association) wanted? No,” said CTA President Barbara Kerr. “Is it exactly what everyone else wanted? No. But it really will work.” The Proposition 82 campaign is putting the teachers at the forefront because of their credibility on the education issue. But the opponents want to keep the focus on Reiner, and that’s where it’s been the past two weeks. Reiner came under so much criticism that he took a leave of absence from his chairmanship of the First Five commission. The commission, which oversees programs funded by another Reiner-backed initiative, Proposition 10, spent $23 million from tobacco tax revenues on ads promoting preschool in the months leading up to Proposition 82 qualifying for the ballot. First Five’s executive director has said Reiner wasn’t involved in the ad campaign decisions. But some conservative activists have called on the governor to replace him. Several lawmakers are seeking audits or investigations of the commission’s finances, and one has called for redirecting the panel’s ad dollars and part of its administrative costs into extending a Kern County preschool program statewide. Assemblywoman Cindy Monta!tildelown!ez, D-San Fernando, and other Democratic lawmakers held a press conference Thursday to denounce that proposal as an attempt to circumvent Proposition 10’s education mandates. Reiner required 6 percent of Proposition 10’s revenues go to education when he drafted the initiative. With that measure and a subsequent one in 2004, Reiner consulted a small group of allies. Proposition 10 passed by a scant 1 percent of the vote, and the second initiative generated so much opposition that Reiner abandoned it before it hit the ballot. “The lesson learned from the last initiative was we have got to be inclusive,” Reiner said. “We have got to bring all parties together to work together to find common ground.” He tried to do just that, starting with the 2004 meeting at his home. Representatives of the teachers association and the Service Employees International Union sat across the table from former junk bond king turned educational entrepreneur and philanthropist Michael Milken. Republican multimillionaire Richard Riordan, a former Los Angeles mayor and state secretary of education, and his Democratic wife and education advocate, Nancy Daly Riordan, were there alongside early childhood education experts. Each agreed to the governing principles Reiner outlined that day: the initiative had to provide high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds; it had to give parents a choice between public and private preschools, and the program had to be fully funded, so a tax increase was essential. Over the next seven months, over sandwiches and soft drinks in conference rooms around the state, business representatives butted heads with labor leaders over unionizing the preschool work force. The teachers fought with Milken and others who wanted a voucher system to pay for preschool, and business leaders negotiated the tax increase terms. At times, some threatened to walk away from the negotiations. None did, but Milken lost the fight on vouchers and hasn’t endorsed Proposition 82. He said through a spokesman he doesn’t take positions on initiatives. “There were a lot of hard feelings around the table and a lot of people had sacred cows they had to give up on,” said Phil Halperin, Silver Giving Foundation president and one of the Proposition 82 negotiators. “The more people talked, the more they understood the other side’s point of view.” Labor preferred public preschools with a unionized work force to private ones. But business wanted to inject “competition” into education. Kerr, the teachers association’s president, said labor ultimately realized public schools didn’t have the capacity to provide preschool to all, so they agreed to include private providers in the program. But labor retained the right to organize the private preschool work force. For business, the biggest hurdle was the tax increase. Rusty Hammer, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce executive director, worked over the phone and e-mail to shape the tax provisions to restore a tax rate former Republican Govs. Pete Wilson and Ronald Reagan had imposed to balance their budgets. It would be a 1.7 percent increase in the tax rate for the state’s top earners. “This is the least objectionable and onerous of tax increases because it’s not a tax on business,” Hammer said. From the winter and into the spring of 2005, the negotiations continued among the cast of characters that gathered at Reiner’s home, their representatives and others who joined later. Reiner stepped in to break up the logjams and urge compromise. By spring 2005, the negotiators had agreed on a final draft. Reiner’s staff then sent the draft to the Legislative Analyst’s Office and 100 groups for further comments. About 50 of the groups offered further refinements and some were adopted. On April 19, along with some of those who had helped write the initiative, Reiner held a teleconference announcing his new “Preschool for All” initiative. “In the end, people realized there was this bigger goal,” said Catherine Atkin, Preschool California president. “The fact that everybody who was at the table at the beginning was there when the initiative was finalized is a testament to them and their commitment to kids.”last_img read more