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Governor Will Not Endorse Universal Preschool Initiative

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Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign said Wednesday he would not endorse a universal preschool initiative that filmmaker Rob Reiner has championed, citing the governor’s long-standing opposition to tax increases.

“Put simply, the governor does not support tax increases and is opposed to Proposition 82 because it will raise taxes,” Katie Levinson, communications director for the Schwarzenegger reelection campaign, said in a statement.

The initiative would make available to all California children free half-day preschool taught by credentialed teachers. To pay for the program, the state would raise $2.4 billion annually by increasing taxes on individuals earning at least $400,000 and couples making more than $800,000. Voters will decide the issue in the June 6 election.

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State Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly, the two major Democratic candidates vying to challenge Schwarzenegger in the fall governor’s race, have endorsed the initiative.

Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Assn., which also has endorsed the preschool measure, said in a statement that she was “disappointed, but not surprised that the governor is opposing Proposition 82.... Rather than supporting programs that would help kids, public education and California, the governor is again aligning himself with the same big-business supporters who wanted to cut public school funding in the special election last November.”

Schwarzenegger finds his political supporters divided on the initiative, putting him in a delicate position. Business interests are against it, while some of his allies have contributed to the campaign to pass the measure.

Richard Riordan, formerly the Schwarzenegger administration’s education secretary and a former mayor of Los Angeles, donated $50,000 to the Yes on 82 campaign. His wife, children’s rights advocate Nancy Daly Riordan, gave another $50,000.

San Francisco financier Warren Hellman co-chairman of Schwarzenegger’s Jobs and Economic Growth Commission, gave $49,000 to the cause, records show.

The governor had taken no public position on the initiative before Wednesday, though he did say at an appearance before the Sacramento Press Club in January that the universal preschool idea was “fantastic.”

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“I think it’s a great idea; I think we need it,” he said at the time. However, he also said he was against “any tax increase.”

A poll released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 52% of likely voters supported Prop 82 and 41% opposed it.

Schwarzenegger’s opposition could make a difference in a close election, some analysts said.

In the governor’s first year in office, his popularity was broad enough that his endorsements were coveted.

That changed last year, when his approval rating sank and his association with four measures on the 2005 special election ballot may have damaged their prospects, according to pollsters.

Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings have rebounded somewhat, and his position could sway some voters, analysts said.

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Schwarzenegger’s position “might have an influence on the fiscally conservative independent voters who might take a look at the tax and spending elements,” said Mark Baldassare, research director for the institute. “It could have a significant impact within his party.”

Westly and Angelides reiterated their support for the initiative Wednesday in a joint appearance at the nonprofit Children’s Institute in Los Angeles.

“As California’s fiscal watchdog, I know that providing preschool for every child is a smart investment in our future,” Westly said.

“Every child in California deserves a world-class education and the opportunity to attend quality preschool,” Angelides said.

Reiner did not respond to a request for comment. Last month, he stepped down as chairman of a state commission on child development amid charges that he had used taxpayer money to build support for the Proposition 82 campaign.

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