As word circulated yesterday of the new Field Poll showing the massive infrastructure bonds package on California’s November ballot losing steam, political insiders buzzed about the numbers and what they mean. It’s clear that if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative Democrats want the infrastructure bonds package to pass, they are going to have to campaign hard for it. This is the post-Proposition 82 Reiner initiative environment, in which voters are more skeptical about seemingly good ideas that cost money.
While some took comfort in the knowledge that opposition to the bonds is not well organized and is unlikely to have major funding, the fact is that all the infrastructure bond initiatives lost ground from two months earlier. And some insiders note that not only did controversial movie director Rob Reiner’s tax-the-rich-for-universal-preschool initiative go down in a June primary election dominated by a Democratic gubernatorial primary contest, so too did a non-controversial bond measure for public libraries, which had no organized opposition.
The Field Poll has the following results on the infrastructure bonds initiatives: Proposition 1B transportation bonds leads, 54% to 27%. Proposition 1C affordable housing bonds trails, 33% to 42%. Proposition 1D education construction bonds leads, 48% to 37%. Proposition 1D, levee repair and disaster preparedness bonds leads, 47% to 33%. All of those initiatives were placed on the ballot by the Legislature and Schwarzenegger. Proposition 84, water and parks bonds, placed on the ballot by environmental groups and endorsed by Schwarzenegger, leads 49% to 31%.
Notably, only the transportation bonds measure has over 50% support. All the others are under 50%, normally a major warning sign with regard to their prospects.
The affordable housing bonds, the one initiative which Schwarzenegger keeps forgetting to mention as he stumps around the state, is in terrible shape with only 33% support. The others could pass, but will all require major campaigns. Even in the absence of a well-funded opposition campaign, as defeat of the library bonds measure in June makes plain.
There is a campaign committee to pass the infrastructure package. However, to date, although a passel of political consultants has been tapped to play roles in running the campaign, no one has actually been formally hired.
Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders, including the Democrats, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, will reportedly meet next week on the matter.
Fundraising is also lagging. With Schwarzenegger focused on his re-election campaign — he continues to far outstrip his Democratic challenger, Treasurer Phil Angelides — Perata and Nunez are for now in charge of the funding.
While support for the bonds has really sagged among Republicans, their support levels among independent voters also leaves much to be desired for this point in the election cycle.
What the overwhelming landslide defeat of the Reiner initiative, 61% to 39%, and the shocker though much closer defeat of the library bonds initiative in June demonstrated is that voters have become very wary of expensive ballot measures that don’t provide a core benefit to their lives.
Most Californians do not use public libraries. Most Californians do not have children of preschool age. In addition, as several consultants noted, the state is spending much of its tax revenue windfall on schools, which have also benefited from various bond measures around the state in recent years.
So it is unsurprising that the infrastructure bond measure enjoying the strongest support is the transportation initiative, as most Californians are acutely aware of the need for serious upgrades and expansions to roads and highways and improvements for transit systems. The levee repair and flood management bonds run second best among the measures placed on the ballot by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature as they deal with a clear and present danger. Though that danger will need to be spelled out again for voters in Southern California who are far from the endangered levees in the Northern and Central parts of the state.
In contrast, the bonds for affordable housing look like “social engineering,” as two political advisors put it, nice ideas that will not benefit a majority. The education construction bonds lead, but fare only third best among those placed by the leadership because Californians already feel they are doing a lot for the schools.
The water and parks bonds, separately placed on the ballot by environmental groups after legislative Republicans made it clear their votes were not available, fare fairly well because voters are favorably disposed to promoting environmental protection.
But with support levels even for core concerns such as transportation and levee repair perilously close to the 50% level, even those measures will require active, bipartisan campaigning from Schwarzenegger and his Democratic allies to avoid an embarrassing defeat for the bipartisanship so hailed in the Capitol just a few months ago. They may need to make some hard choices, such as on the affordable housing bonds, in order to ensure victory for the heart of the package.