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Support Remains Soft for California Ballot Measure Crucial to Public Colleges


The Chronicle of Higher Education - August 22, 2012

A California ballot measure designed to avoid deep cuts in state spending on higher education, among other costs, currently enjoys the support of 55 percent of likely voters, according to the results of a poll released on Wednesday.

But the poll, conducted on behalf of the University of Southern California and Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonpartisan research center, also suggests that support could weaken by Election Day.

"Its prospects are partly cloudy with a chance of rain," said Benjamin C. Tulchin, president of Tulchin Research, which conducted the poll along with M4 Strategies.

The measure, known as Proposition 30, was put forth by Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. It would temporarily raise the state's sales tax by a quarter cent and impose additional income taxes on top earners in order to close a $15.7-billion state-budget shortfall. If the measure fails to win voter support in November, the University of California system, the California State University system, and the California community colleges would face a "trigger cut" of $963-million in January, on top of several rounds of steep cuts since 2008.

The online poll, of more than 1,000 likely registered voters, found that 55 percent of respondents supported Prop 30, with 36 percent opposed to it and 10 percent undecided. But 23.3 percent of respondents strongly opposed the measure, more than the 22.8 percent that strongly supported it. And after respondents took in a pro-Prop 30 television advertisement and an anti-Prop 30 radio advertisement, the number of supporters dropped to 52 percent, the number of opponents dropped to 34 percent, and the number of undecided voters rose to 14 percent.

According to Daniel Schnur, director of Southern California's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, the poll results "suggest that Proposition 30 is vulnerable, and that the governor and his allies are almost certainly going to need to do something to change the trajectory of this debate between now and November in order to secure its passage."

Such a forecast is not unexpected, Mr. Tulchin said, as "traditionally the trajectory for revenue measures is downward." He added, "I expect this to be a very close race through the fall."