County Poll Gives Edge to 2 Tax Initiatives : June ballot: One proposal would decrease residential property taxes. Another would raise gasoline taxes.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

By narrow margins, county voters favor a gasoline tax increase and a proposed residential property tax decrease, according to a poll released Monday on two of the most controversial issues expected on June's statewide ballot.

The poll, conducted by Mark Baldassare for UC Irvine, found that most respondents--50% to 45%--support a 9-cent increase in the gas tax to help pay for new roads and transportation projects.

By an even slimmer margin--46% to 44%--the survey also found support for the so-called "split roll" property tax initiative, which would reduce residential property taxes by $500 and almost double the tax on business property.

For the split roll initiative, proponents have submitted more than 800,000 signatures that are being reviewed by state election officials to determine whether the measure will qualify for the June ballot.

Baldassare said it is significant that 44% of the respondents opposed a decrease in their property taxes. He suggested that they may actually consider it a tax increase if they are looking at it from the perspective of the business community.

Based on the survey results, Baldassare said he believes that the electorate increasingly recognizes that it will have to pay more to maintain its quality of life.

"This is not the Orange County of 10 years ago, where people would have automatically voted down any measure to increase taxes," Baldassare said. "I think people not only are trying to find solutions to Orange County's problems but are also starting to realize that they might have to help pay for them."

The poll is part of UC Irvine's 1989 Orange County Annual Survey, a broad look at issues and trends in the area that will be released in its entirety next week. It is based on 1,085 county adult respondents--including 904 registered voters--who were contacted in September.

The error margin for the survey is plus or minus 3%.

The results released Monday also included a matchup in the 1990 gubernatorial race, showing Republican Sen. Pete Wilson leading Democratic state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, 47% to 29%, to succeed Gov. George Deukmejian.

The survey did not include former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who is also running for governor in the Democratic primary; Baldassare said she is not a front-runner.

The survey results on the gas tax increase showed attitudes similar to those found regarding Measure M, the county's proposed half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects, which failed at the polls earlier this month.

In both cases, polls found the proposals favored by most respondents but opposed by older and conservative voters. Political strategists believe that Measure M failed because there was a low voter turnout and, in such cases, most of the voters are older and conservative.

The poll released Monday found the state gas tax increase favored by voters younger than 54. It was also favored by Democrats but narrowly opposed by Republicans.

Baldassare said he did not ask how many voters were aware of the proposed gas tax increase or the split roll tax initiative. Instead, for the latter, he asked whether the respondents would favor a doubling in the tax rate for business properties and a $500 reduction for homeowners and renters.

The proposed split roll initiative would cut residential property taxes by $500 and grant a $500 tax credit to renters.

The survey found that the split roll initiative is supported by a majority of voters who are young, liberal, Democratic and with lower-to-medium incomes.

Baldassare noted that it is an interesting contrast with the property-tax-reducing Proposition 13, which was proposed by political conservatives.

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