Actor in San Diego to push initiative

By John Marelius

Actor Rob Reiner visited San Diego yesterday to promote a plan to guarantee access to preschool for all 4-year-olds by raising taxes on wealthy Californians.

"The biggest bang for the buck we can get in terms of success in school, success in business, success in our work force, lowering crime rates, lowering welfare dependency, occurs when you make an investment early on," Reiner said in a speech to the City Club of San Diego.

Reiner is sponsoring an initiative aimed at the June 2006 ballot that would pay for universal preschool with a tax of 1.7 percent on individuals whose income exceeds $400,000 a year, $800,000 for couples.

It's Reiner's second foray into California ballot initiative politics. He sponsored Proposition 10, the 1998 measure that levied a 50-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes and raised taxes on other tobacco products to finance children's health and education programs.

Reiner has long been the object of speculation as a prospective Democratic candidate for governor. But he said after his speech that he is concentrating on qualifying his initiative for the ballot and has no present interest in running for office.

"If I feel I can get something done this way, this is what I do," he said. "If at some point in time, I think that the best way to accomplish things is through elected office, then that's something I'll consider at that time, but I'm not thinking about that right now."

Reiner said he and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are friends who often discussed education when their children attended the same preschool.

He said that while the Republican governor shares his concern about the importance of preschool education, he is not expecting Schwarzenegger's endorsement of the initiative.

"He's made a pledge not to raise taxes, so I don't know where he'll be on this," Reiner said.

Under the initiative, the elected state superintendent of public instruction would administer the preschool program and hold county offices of education to exacting standards.

While Reiner boasts such diverse supporters as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Service Employees International Union, some state budget analysts worry that the plan lacks sufficient flexibility to weather sudden shifts in the economy.

"The question becomes should you be locking in this kind of a program at that level of detail at the ballot box?" said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Process. "It is an example of a worthy goal, and the question is whether this is the best way to do it."