A poll sponsored by Policy Analysis for California Education  (PACE) and USC’s Rossier School of Education contained more than just a glimpse on how the governor’s Prop 30 was doing, although most media reports centered on that measure. The poll also targeted views on a familiar target, the one initiative measure that, no doubt, has been surveyed more than any other – Proposition 13.

Pollsters wanted to know how Prop 13, the venerable 1978 property tax measure, stood with the voters today. Pretty solid, given that the combined Yes total of support was at 73% and the No mark dropped to 16%.

The pollsters then followed up with a split sample question on the idea of taxing business property differently than residential property. Respondents were asked in one question if they would approve taxing large commercial properties at their current market value while leaving residential property under the current Prop 13 rules. In this case, the voters responded positively at 58.6% Yes and 23.7% No.

The other sample test was to tax large commercial properties at current market values while lowering residential property taxes. The numbers here were similar, although with slightly more opposition to the idea at 56.5% Yes and 27.1% No.

Note the phrase I highlighted – large commercial properties. I’ve never seen a split roll proposal centered on a few large properties. All proposals want to tax all commercial properties because those interested in raising revenue won’t get the revenue they want out a few properties. Not that the small business person escapes higher property taxes even if the tax law writers managed to limit the tax increase to certain large properties. The large office buildings usually are full of tenants who sign leases that require them to share any property tax increases.

When these kinds of arguments are offered to voters they respond more negatively to a proposal to split the property tax roll between commercial and residential properties.

The pollsters asked one last Proposition 13 question. They laid out the arguments for and against the split roll. When they did that the support for the split roll caved in.

Here are the opposing point-of-view questions.

Supporters say reforming Proposition 13 will make big corporations pay their fair share. Many highly profitable businesses, like Apple and Chevron, are paying property taxes based on assessed values from over 30 years ago.  Also, corporations use loopholes to avoid re-assessing their property even when the property changes ownership.  This reform will bring in needed additional revenues for local schools and services.

From the other P-O-V:

Opponents say California already has the highest taxes in the country. The last thing we should do is raise taxes on businesses by billions of dollars. Many businesses will likely move to Nevada or other places where taxes are lower, taking jobs with them.  We should cut wasteful spending before raising taxes.

Split roll majority support vanished when these arguments were presented to the voters: 40.3% Yes, 42.2% No. And, the negative argument was not even the strongest one that can be made. The poll numbers don’t reflect the effects a split roll would have on small businesses.

Placing side-by-side arguments on the merits and demerits of Prop 30 also showed movement. The argument on behalf of the tax increase scored 35%, arguments against the measure hit a chord with 48.7% agreeing with those arguments.

When the full consequences are explained, the voters show less of an appetite for tax increase measures.

The full poll results can be found here.