A poll released on Friday by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy indicates that for voters there is still magic in the name Proposition 13. The poll measured voter reaction to possible changes in the 1978 property tax law, splitting the respondent sample questions so that one group was asked about changing the “law” and a second group asked about amending “Proposition 13.” The results were markedly different.

When one sample group was asked if they would lower the vote requirement to pass a parcel tax increase from the current two-thirds requirement to 55%, voters rejected the idea by about 10-points. However, when the second sample group was asked if they would amend Proposition 13 to lower the vote requirement on parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55%, the idea went down by 20-points, twice as much.

The same phenomenon occurred on a question asked about a split roll property tax in which commercial property would be reassessed each year while residential assessment policy would remain the same. When the question was asked about changing “the law” on commercial property assessment, respondents approved 49.7% to 29.9%, a 20-point margin.

However, when a second sample was told the reassessment change would require an amendment to Proposition 13, the proposal closed by 10-points to 42.4% Yes, 32.4% No.

One other split roll question registered little change between the two groups. A question proposed doubling the property tax rate on non-residential property. The group asked about “the law” and the group asked about “Prop 13” both rejected the idea by approximately the same double-digit margin.

It should be noted that both the Roundtable/Pepperdine poll and the PPIC poll of last week both showed support for a split roll. However, neither poll probed the issue of what effect the split roll might have on the economy or jobs and small businesses. In fact, the Roundtable/Pepperdine poll question not only did not mention any negative impacts, but declared that reassessment of commercial property would add an additional $4-$6 billion to government coffers.

Adding the discussion about small business is important to the debate. Even in buildings owned by big business, small business tenants are vulnerable to tax increases because of the typical leases signed that require a pass-through on taxes.

When the debate gets into full swing if a split roll proposal moves forward, the issue of economic consequences will be heard.

In the meantime, a slogan presents itself to supporters of the property tax law that celebrates its 35th anniversary this week: Don’t Mess with Prop 13.

Poll results can be found here.