While the Proposition 13 property tax cut measure of four decades ago still enjoys a two-to-one advantage in polls, the Proposition 13 on the March 3 ballot for a $15 billion school bond is barely hanging on according to the new Public Policy Institute of California poll. 

The poll found “slim” support for the big maintenance, construction, and modernization bond for schools, community colleges and universities. Of likely voters, 51% were supportive, 42% opposed. School bonds usually meet success on the statewide ballot in which 50% plus one is the necessary passing margin. 

All the money is on the Yes side of the bond, over $8 million. Endorsing supporters, including educational organizations, business groups and elected officials vastly outnumber opponents made up of traditional tax watchdogs. With all the complaints about schools needing money, why is the bond not doing better? 

Is the school issue not as strong as advocates think it is? 

Or is that old property tax issue, which is tied to this measure because of the requirement for local matching funds, influencing the poll results? 

Could there be another reason tied to this particular school bond because it carries the same number as the iconic property tax measure of 40-plus years ago? 

Pushing any measure that claims more money is needed for schools has been generally a position of strength in most campaigns, which makes the 51% support less than two weeks before the election a bit of surprise.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC’s president and CEO, said while the measure is supported by 69% of Democrats (as compared to 24% of Republicans and 47% of Independents) only 41 percent of Democrats say the outcome of the vote on Proposition 13 is “very important.” Baldassare added, “The fact that Proposition 13 appears on a ballot with the Democratic Presidential primary and no other state bond measures is consequential in the context of these polling results.” 

The bond could benefit from the context of this election driven by the Democratic presidential primary election. Another advantage for the bond is that it polls better in the liberal population centers of Los Angeles (56% Yes) and San Francisco (62% Yes.) In the other three regions of the state detailed by PPIC—the Central Valley, Inland Empire and the Orange County/San Diego County area—none topped 50%. 

Still, the PPIC poll revealed that 59% of Republicans viewed the vote on the measure as very important. 

That could be because while the state bond doesn’t directly raise taxes, property taxes on the local level likely could result if the state bond passes. Proposition 13 requires local matching money to gain state funds. The most likely way for school districts to provide the local funds is to offer a local school bond, backed by property tax increases. 

Finally, there is the curious occurrence of this school bond carrying the same number as arguably California’s most familiar and famous ballot measure—the tax cutting 1978 Proposition 13.

When asked if confusion over the Proposition 13 number might have influenced likely voters who were polled, Baldassare wrote in an email, “I’m not sure how much confusion there is about Proposition 13 since we read the title and summary after mentioning Proposition 13. If there is confusion, does it help the yes vote or the no vote since most Californians today have a favorable view of the Proposition 13 tax initiative?”

Yet, with many commentators and news columnists citing confusion over the measure because of the iconic number and even social media posts expressing uncertainty about what this March 3 Proposition 13 really means, voter misunderstanding could have an impact on the vote. 

As I’ve suggested before, the whole issue of mixing up future Proposition 13s with the 1978 measure could be eliminated if the Proposition 13 number were retired. 

Last November, when the school bond was assigned the Proposition 13 label, I wrote in this space about an effort 20 years ago to retire the ballot number 13. The legislative bill passed but did not achieve the necessary two-thirds vote needed as an urgency measure to prevent confusion about a new Proposition 13—another bond as it turned out—that was heading for the ballot.

Here’s a link back to that article. 

Maybe it’s time to reconsider that attempt and finally retire the ballot measure number 13.