The split roll initiative qualified for the November 2020 ballot is already getting attention in the polls more than a year-and-a-half before the election. But do these early polls tell us anything about that controversial and certain to be hotly contested issue?

The questions asked are mostly straight-forward with few of the dueling facts, figures, and arguments that will be used in a campaign.

The split roll proposes to divide the property tax rolls between residential and commercial property with some exemptions for small business property. Residential property would remain under Proposition13’s property tax protections of assessing a property upon sale and allowing a 2% a year increase thereafter until sold again. Under the proposed split roll, commercial property would be reassessed on a frequent basis to current market value eliminating the yearly 2% cap.

When the USC Rossier Education School/PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education) asked about the split roll in an online poll, the idea was supported overall, 55% to 33%. Ironically, PACE expressed two minds about the poll result. In the press release announcing the education poll it noted the 55% response represented “a narrow majority of voters” and suggested “a close fight to come.”

Yet, a summary of the poll results declared, “Voters strongly support” the split roll.

PPIC (The Public Policy Institute of California) also asked a question about the split roll in its latest poll. Voters were much more evenly divided. 49% of likely voters favored the idea of having commercial property taxed according to current market value while 43% opposed the idea.

The questions asked were different. While PPIC asked a flat question on whether voters thought it was a good idea if commercial property were assessed differently than residential property no other information was supplied in the question.

The USC Rossier/PACE poll specifically noted that $11 billion would be raised if the split roll passed with 40% going to public education. Also perhaps influencing the poll was that it was conducted in early January just prior to the Los Angeles teachers’ strike, which was capturing news headlines at the time.

Unlike the online poll conducted by the education groups, PPIC’s survey was conducted over cell phones (70%) and landlines (30%). The PPIC poll was taken in late January.

So what did we learn this far out before the election? Not a whole lot.

While the money for schools factor probably influenced the education poll, no negative consequences to jobs and the economy, an important issue for voters, was raised in either poll question.

However, another question asked by the PPIC poll could have a significant influence in the coming battle.

Once again, PPIC tested the value of Proposition 13 with voters. And, once again likely voters declared Prop 13 worthy. Asked if Proposition 13 was mostly a good or a bad thing, 64% of likely voters said it was a good thing, only 24% responded it was mostly bad. The margin was larger than the usual two-to-one support for Proposition 13.

Approval for Prop 13 was greater than 60% across most categories: Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Moderates and Conservatives. Only Liberals rated it below 60% but still declared it was mostly a good thing by a healthy 56%.

The overall attitude toward Prop 13 will certainly play a key role in the coming campaign.