Two polls were issued yesterday, while quite different in the territory they covered, both contained one question that examined the same issue – a split roll property tax. In one way the results on that one question were quite different. In another way they reflected a probable similar outcome—altering the property tax system will be a difficult task.

Examining the poll results leads to the familiar complaint levied against many a survey —it depends how the question is asked.

In the Public Policy Institute of California poll, which was quite extensive and touched on many issues, the split roll question (taxing commercial property differently than residential property) came within a series of questions dealing with state revenue and other potential tax increase proposals.

PPIC’s telephone survey asked the question this way:

Under Proposition 13, residential and commercial property taxes are both strictly limited. What do you think about having commercial properties taxed according to their current market value? Do you favor or oppose this proposal?

The response: 50-percent of likely voters favored the proposal while 44-percent opposed.

The California Business Roundtable revealed results of a poll conducted for the organization by M4 Strategies. The M4 Strategies survey using mobile phones and online polling was much shorter and asked respondents to read the following pro/con arguments and register their support:

We should change our property tax policy and tax commercial property based on the current market value of the land because it will ensure businesses pay their fair share and generate $6 to $10 billion in new revenue for state and local government, including schools.

We first should focus on closing loopholes in out property tax law before raising property taxes on every small business in California. Closing just the loopholes will generate $70 million in new revenue for the state and California schools, but won’t drag down the state’s rebounding economy and won’t hurt small businesses and the thousands of jobs they create.

The response: 21.4-percent favored the first answer in supporting a split roll; 63-percent agreed with the second answer opposing a split roll.

The PPIC poll question suggested a close contest on the measure; the M4 explanations produced a one-sided result.

There is not much context to the PPIC question. It doesn’t suggest how much money a change in the property tax system would bring in; nor did it raise any issues about effects on the economy and jobs.

The M4 statement focuses on small businesses exclusively in the con argument, no mention of big business or even using the term ‘commercial property’ in painting a negative picture.

My biases on this issue are clear for anyone who has reads this site. I am a small business advocate and believe a split roll would adversely affect small businesses and the economy. However, just using small businesses in the statement certainly could sway the responses.

While a campaign for and against a split roll would flesh out arguments for the voters there is something similar to be taken from these two polls that seems to show different results. While the Roundtable/M4 poll indicates that a split roll initiative will face daunting odds, the PPIC poll also indicates it would be difficult to pass a split roll measure.

Most experts agree that an initiative that doesn’t have 60-percent support well before a campaign gets started would face long odds. Put into the equation the massive campaign that would be unleashed against a split roll initiative and that would only increase those long odds.

PPIC notes that the 50-percent mark on the side of reassessing commercial property is the lowest a PPIC poll has seen on this issue. In fact, the number dropped from 54-percent support just last January.

In summing up the results on all the tax issues tested in his poll, Mark Baldassare, pollster and PPIC president said, “Most efforts to make changes to our state’s tax system face difficult hurdles even in the favorable climate of an improving economy.”

While the numbers in both polls are many percentage points apart they both indicate the same thing – a hard and difficult road for a split roll.

The PPIC poll can be found here.

The Business Roundtable/M4 Strategies poll is here.