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THE TIMES ORANGE COUNTY POLL : Prop. 111 in Uphill Fight Locally

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With Orange County shaping up as a key battleground in the fight over a state gas-tax increase to fund transportation projects, The Times Orange County Poll shows a slight majority of local voters opposed to the measure, which comes to a vote on June 5.

The same poll, however, found strong support among county residents for a proposed half-cent local sales tax measure to fund transportation improvements. That measure was defeated last year but is expected to get a second chance in November.

In a telephone survey of 600 registered voters, 47% said they favor Proposition 111, the statewide gas-tax proposal. Forty-nine percent said they oppose the measure and 4% remain undecided. But the initiative is ahead, 50% to 46%, among those voters deemed most likely to go to the polls in the upcoming election.

Mark Baldassare & Associates directed The Times Orange County Poll, a random-sample telephone survey conducted in the evening on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The margin of error is 4%.

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The county electorate’s opposition to Proposition 111, which if passed is expected to raise about $18 billion for highway and mass-transit construction that supporters believe would ease the state’s crippling congestion, is essentially a flip-flop of statewide poll results, which show the measure narrowly ahead 45% to 42%, with 13% undecided.

But Orange County residents have not turned their backs entirely on paying for transportation solutions.

Measure M, the sales-tax increase for transportation funding that lost by a margin of 53% to 47% last November, leads in the poll, with 58% in favor of the proposal, compared to 38% opposed and 4% undecided. The 20-point cushion represents a far larger margin than the measure garnered in any poll conducted before last year’s election.

It also marks the first time that a majority of county voters have indicated a preference for such a measure. In a Times Orange County poll conducted last July, only 48% of county voters supported Measure M, and in October the figure was 47%.

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The county sales-tax increase enjoys support in all income and age groups, according to the poll. Support for it also extends across the county geographically, with about 62% of South County residents supporting the sales tax compared to 56% in the north. Last year, the measure lacked the support of both older voters and North County residents.

The county’s historical propensity to oppose tax increases and its reputation as a staunch bastion of Republican conservatism has marked it as a prime target for supporters of Proposition 111, who have steadfastly maintained that they could sway Orange County voters if their message got out.

They have had their work cut out for them, however, as the county is also home base for Tom Rogers, a slow-growth activist and a statewide leader of the measure’s opposition.

“Orange County is certainly a more difficult county than, say, San Francisco,” noted Don Schrack, a spokesman for the pro-Proposition 111 campaign committee. “But we feel when our story is told, we get support everywhere.”

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Schrack said that Orange County’s conservative Republican electorate “may cast a more jaundiced eye” on a tax measure. But he suggested that even rock-solid anti-tax stalwarts could be swayed. Proposition 111 has garnered support from “a lot of leading Orange County Republicans, some of the movers and shakers in the county,” he added.

The state gas-tax increase, which would add 5 cents a gallon to the price of gas as of Aug. 1 and an additional penny each year until 1995, has been endorsed by the Orange County Transportation Commission and several other county agencies.

Support for the statewide ballot measure, which would simultaneously raise the spending limit to allow for the massive highway and transit construction effort, is higher along Orange County’s southern flank than in the north, according to the poll. Fifty-three percent of South County respondents favor the gas tax, compared to 45% in the north.

Support also rises with income--52% of county residents who earn more than $50,000 a year back the measure, compared to 42% of those who make less than $50,000 annually. Support for Proposition 111 declines in Orange County with age, with about 50% under 35 supporting it and a slight majority of those 55 years old and older opposed.

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The poll indicated that 37% of the electorate support both Proposition 111 and Measure M, while another 21% favor the county measure but not the statewide gas-tax increase. Twenty-eight percent oppose both proposals.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Orange County Poll was conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates. The telephone survey of 600 registered voters was conducted over three nights, ending Wednesday, using a random sample of listed and unlisted county telephone numbers. The margin of error for the entire sample is plus or minus 4%. That means it is 95% certain that the results are within 4 percentage points of what they would be if all registered voters in the county would be interviewed. For the subsample of 328 Republicans, the margin of error is 6 points. And for the 212 Democrats, it is 7 points.

The Times Orange County Poll Proposition 111 If the June election were held today, would you vote yes or no on Proposition 111, which would increase the spending limit for all state programs, thus allowing a nine cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax to pay for transportation projects in California? No: 49% Don’t know: 4% Yes: 47% Measure M Measure M which is scheduled for the November ballot would raise the sales tax one half cent in Orange County from 6 cents to 6 1/2 cents for 20 years, to be used solely for transportation construction and growth management programs in Orange County. No: 38% Don’t know: 4% Yes: 58% Note: The Times Orange County Poll was conducted May 21-23 using a random sample of telephone numbers. The margin of error for a sample of this size is + or - 4 percent. Source: Times Orange County Poll

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