What can we learn from the Public Policy Institute of California’s poll on tax issues probably facing voters next year? For supporters of more money for schools, there is disappointment at this time in that two of the three measures tested have not generated majority support among likely voters.

Schools are supposed to be the slam dunk appeal to the hearts of voters when it comes to approving more tax money. It’s an old strategy that frequently succeeds. However, at the moment, the school people seem to have work to do convincing voters that more money from their pockets for the children is a good idea.

When asked about the pre-school thru college health and public safety bond that will appear on the ballot in March as Proposition 13, likely voters support it 48% to 36%. Clearly, the bond is in position to reach the 50% passing mark, but given that most bonds on the statewide ballot pass, it seems strange the poll didn’t find stronger support for the bond.

Maybe voters are uncertain what the bond will pay for. Health and public safety covers a lot of territory. Is there a sense that an omnibus titled bill will just throw money at schools with little oversight in how it will be spent? Is the bond considered too broad covering every school stage from pre-schoolers to college students? The poll question did not mention the bond’s steep $15 billion price tag or offer an explanation of what the measure is about. It was a simply a question based on the ballot label.

Still, the bond, despite its sluggish start, has a good chance of passing. There is sure to be a well financed campaign to see it passed with little if any money on the NO side. The business community may support the bond and use it as a shield of sorts in declaring business is indeed for good schools even when business groups oppose the other taxes designated to provide money for schools that directly tax business.

The effort to alter Proposition 13, that’s the 41 year-old property tax protections not the March bond, by assessing commercial property at market value is still stuck in the starting blocks. Likely voters support is non-existent when margin of error in the polling is considered. 46% of likely voters supported the idea, 45% opposed. 

PPIC also conducted a reading of all adults, not just likely voters, to this question and on that score, school tax supporters did better. On this so-called split roll proposal, 57% supported the idea, 36% opposed. The strategy for the struggling campaign is to get those adults registered and to the polls.

The bright spot in the PPIC poll for the school funding advocates was a question about a proposed initiative to raise corporate taxes and income taxes on the wealthiest state taxpayers to fund schools. That measure enjoyed a more comfortable lead among likely voters, 56% to 38%.

Which begs the question, why is the school establishment as represented by the powerful teachers unions still pursuing the split roll property tax instead of pushing the income/corporate tax measure which has much wider support? Especially when all of the approximate $15 billion raised by the income/corporate tax proposal would go to schools, while the schools cut of the property tax proposition is only 40% of nearly $12 billion with the rest going to local governments?

Could it be union harmony? Other public employee unions lead by the SEIU are pushing hard for the property tax increase as a way to confront the crushing demands of pensions on local government budgets. Those unions won’t get the money they want from the school boards proposal. Or is it simply a step toward the goal of wiping out Proposition 13 all together, which many in the public sector have dreamed about?

How long do the teachers stick with the property tax measure if they see a much tougher fight and less money in a battle over the iconic Proposition 13 and the split roll?