LOS ANGELES, JUNE 1 -- A small band of anti-tax crusaders with less than $4,000 for advertising have a chance to defeat a pivotal initiative on Tuesday's California primary ballot that would raise state spending limits and could affect negotiations in Washington on a federal budget compromise, political analysts said today.
Despite more than $5 million in television and radio commercials and support from nearly every major politician, newspaper and political organization in the state, Proposition 111 leads by only a 45 percent to 42 percent margin in the latest Los Angeles Times poll.
Mervin Field, whose California Poll gave the measure a 49 percent to 38 percent lead in early May, noted that he has seen many "complete turnarounds" on ballot measures in the state, and "tax issues have been notorious in that regard." A Prop 111 loss could chill efforts in Washington to reach a budget accord that includes new taxes to ease the federal deficit, several analysts and state politicians said.
A victory for Prop 111 opponents would mean "read our lips, no new taxes," said Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R), an opponent.
Prop 111, previously known as Senate Constitutional Amendment 1, would loosen 1979 restrictions on state spending contained in an initiative sponsored by the late anti-tax crusader Paul Gann. It would let the state impose a 9 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase, already agreed to by Gov. George Deukmejian (R) and Democratic leaders of the legislature. The new tax revenues would fund a 10-year, $18.5 billion program of improvements to congested and deteriorating roads as well as mass transit improvements and earthquake safety measures.
Bob Schmidt, spokesman for Yes on 111 and 108 (a related rail transit measure doing better in the polls), said proponents believe voters will approve new taxes tied to specific needs. The campaign has produced commercials targeting audiences in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, showing how Prop 111 would solve transportation problems in those areas.
Opponents of the initiative, led by Gann disciples, taxpayer associations, some Republican legislators and supply side economist Arthur B. Laffer, argue that the transportation issue is being used to weaken the Gann limits and allow more spending and taxing by the Democratic-controlled legislature. "For the average family of four," McClintock said in a letter to media organizations, "the total price tag over the next 10 years could easily be more than $9,000, with only $2,000 for transportation."
Ted Costa, spokesman for the People's Advocate organization founded by Gann, said he has asked television and radio stations to broadcast his "No on 111" commercials for free in order to balance the paid Prop 111 campaign, but proponents have complained of inaccuracies in the commercials and reminded stations they are under no legal obligation to run them.
"About 10 stations are playing them," Costa said. "I figure we have had one spot for every three they have placed." McClintock added, "If we win, it will be David vs. Goliath once again."