The filmmaker Rob Reiner has stepped down from his post as the chairman of California’s First 5 Commission until after voters decide on Proposition 82, a ballot initiative on universal preschool for 4-year-olds that he is leading.
His leave of absence from the commission comes in the midst of controversy over whether the First 5 panel, which was created after a 1998 ballot initiative that also was promoted by Mr. Reiner, is spending millions of dollars on television and radio ads to subtly promote the proposed “Preschool for All” ballot measure.
If passed, Proposition 82 would levy an additional 1.7 percent tax on individuals making more than $400,000 a year and married couples earning more than $800,000. The revenue would pay for the $2.3 billion-a-year program. A longtime advocate of early-childhood services, Mr. Reiner sponsored the petition drive to place the initiative on California’s June 6 ballot.
In his Feb. 24 letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Reiner said he was requesting the leave “to avoid any political distractions that might impede First 5’s important work of providing hundreds of thousands of children across the state with health care, preschool, and other critical services that will prepare them to succeed in school.”
In November, before Proposition 82 qualified for the ballot, the First 5 Commission, which is paid for by a tobacco tax, launched an $18 million advertising campaign touting the benefits to society when children attend preschool programs.
But taxpayer-advocacy groups in California say the spots are an example of public money being used to promote a political agenda.
Meanwhile, some members of the legislature have called for an audit of the commission over the matter, and last week, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, a Democrat, withdrew his support of Proposition 82. He said the measure would cost too much and would subsidize families who already could afford preschool.
Officials of First 5 have denied supporting the initiative through the ad campaign, and point out that the commercials do not specifically mention the Preschool for All initiative.
Mr. Reiner was appointed the commission’s chairman in 1999 by then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat. His term as chairman expired in December of 2004, but Gov. Schwarzenegger has not named a replacement.