Director Rob Reiner slams Schwarzenegger, lawmakers
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO ” Director Rob Reiner is back on the campaign trail ” and he’s not happy about it.
Reiner told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he has joined forces with children’s advocates to defeat a measure on next month’s special election ballot. Proposition 1D would steer money away from a childhood development program Reiner championed a decade ago.
The “When Harry Met Sally” filmmaker criticized Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California lawmakers for their management of state finances.
“They failed miserably,” he said. “So now what are they going to do? The thing that they always do. They try to balance the budget on the backs of poor people and kids and people who have mental health issues.”
Proposition 1D and five other measures were put on the May 19 ballot as part of a deal to close the state’s $42 billion budget deficit.
The measure would take nearly $1.7 billion from First 5, a program created by voters in 1998 that used tobacco-tax money to fund early childhood programs. Reiner spearheaded that campaign, which narrowly passed with 50.5 percent of the vote.
Another proposition would transfer money from a fund designated for mental health programs.
Reiner said he has given $150,000 to the campaign against Proposition 1D and might give more.
Lawmakers have said both the state and county First 5 commissions that award the tobacco tax money are sitting on a $2.5 billion reserve fund. They want the money to help California’s financially strapped general fund and offset cuts to other state programs that help children.
“This measure would take unused funding and use it to make the cuts to children’s health care and these other programs much less severe,” said Julie Soderlund, spokeswoman for Budget Reform Now, the campaign supporting all six ballot propositions. “These are very tough times for the state.”
Reiner, who chaired the statewide commission for seven years, said lawmakers were punishing a successful program for diligently managing its bank account to meet long-term obligations.
“That’s smart governance,” Reiner said of First 5’s reserve fund. “That’s what the Legislature and the governor in Sacramento should have been doing and we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
The fund has long been a target of lawmakers who have often questioned whether the money has been spent effectively or even in accordance with the law.
Reiner was forced to step down as head of First 5 in 2006 amid criticism that the commission misspent money. It awarded more than $77 million in media contracts to promote preschool commercials while Reiner was collecting signatures to qualify another ballot initiative to fund universal preschool.
The ballot measure would not directly touch the program’s reserve fund but rather would transfer $268 million a year for five years from tobacco tax revenue. That’s about half of the amount First 5 received this year and would force cuts in its programs around the state, said Sherry Novick, executive director of the First 5 Association of California.
Most county programs were planning to use their reserve funds to offset declining revenue that is expected in the future as more people stop smoking.
Reiner and other children’s advocates say Proposition 1D will cost California more in the long run.
“By defunding health care and preschool and child-abuse prevention programs, it’s going to really cause damage to children,” Reiner said. “It’s so shortsighted on the part of the Legislature.”
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