SAN FRANCISCO - Tumbling gasoline prices and an economic meltdown are creating an uphill battle for a host of California transit bond measures that looked promising just a few months ago.
Only 47% of California voters plan to vote for Proposition 1A, which would authorize $10 billion of bonds for the first leg of the state's proposed high-speed rail network, according to the latest Field Poll, published Saturday.
That's down from 56% in July. While only 42% of voters oppose the bullet train, the measure requires a majority of votes to pass, and the percentage of "no" voters has increased from just 30% in July. Eleven percent of voters remain undecided, down from 14% in July.
"When the economy goes south, bond issues don't pass," said professor Roderick Kiewiet, a California Institute of Technology political scientist, who researches the states's initiatives and referendums.
A sharp decline in gasoline prices has also lessened the urgency of transit measures. The price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline fell to $2.85 in the Los Angeles area this weekend, down from a record $4.63 on June 21, according to AAA.
"Unfortunately, as the vote on the measure approaches next week, Californians' immediate pain from high gas prices has been replaced by an immediate fear of the deteriorating economy," Yes on Prop. 1A, the campaign for high-speed rail, said in a release last week. Supporters such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are urging Californians not to "blow" an "opportunity" to reduce traffic because of short-term swings in gasoline prices.
Analysts expect lower fuel prices to also weigh on local sales tax measures that would expand the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to San Jose, link Marin and Sonoma counties via rail and fund tens of billions in subway, light rail and other transit projects for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Current, nonpartisan polling data is only available for the statewide rail measure.
"Voters will turn a lot of them down," Kiewiet said of the $45 billion in bond measures on the California ballot today.
The results of the Field Poll released over the weekend seem to support his analysis.
The high-speed rail measure, the biggest statewide bond measure this year, is supported by less than 50% of self-identified Republicans, conservatives, and middle-of-the-road voters. While the measure is winning majority support in the state's two biggest metro areas, it is trailing in Southern California outside Los Angeles, in the Central Valley, and in rural Northern California.
The Field Poll surveyed a random sample of 966 likely voters from Oct. 18 to Oct. 28. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.3%.
In other findings on statewide bond measures, voters were torn on a $5 billion measure that would fund rebates for alternative fuel vehicles, such as hybrids. Forty-nine percent of voters plan to vote for Proposition 10, which is the second-biggest on the statewide ballot, and 39% plan to vote against the measure. Twelve percent remain undecided.
The Field Poll also showed that a $980 million children's hospital bond measure, Proposition 3, has pulled ahead in the polls and now has majority support, with a margin of 54% to 35%. It had the support of just 47% of voters in July. A $900 million veterans housing bond measure is also winning with support of 58% of voters.