A California ballot measure that would pump $1 billion a year into arts and music education appears poised to pass by a wide margin, according to a poll released Friday.
The initiative, Proposition 28, is leading by a margin of 69% to 31%, according to the USC Schwarzenegger Institute-USC Price California Issues Poll.
Numerous artists and entertainment companies have lent their support to the initiative, which was spearheaded by Austin Beutner, the former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“We’re in a very good position,” Beutner said in an interview. “People see the merits of providing arts and music education without raising taxes on anybody.”
Nearly $600 million has been spent this cycle by various gaming interests on Propositions 26 and 27, which would authorize sports betting in California. (Both of those measures appear headed to defeat, according to the USC poll.)
Meanwhile, the campaign to pass Prop. 28 has been relatively modest, raising only $10.7 million.
Universal Music Group has backed the measure with a $25,000 contribution and has also planted a “Yes on 28” flag atop the iconic Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. Live Nation Worldwide has also given $10,000, while scrolling digital ads for the initiative at music concerts.
Beutner has rallied a long list of celebrity endorsers for the measure, including Christina Aguilera (who hosted a fundraiser), Bonnie Raitt, Jason Momoa, Katy Perry, Lionel Ritchie and Issa Rae. Many of them have used their social media platforms to spread the word.
Supporters of the measure argue that only 1 in 5 schools in the state has a full-time arts or music program and that such programs ought to be spread more equitably. Beutner argues that the initiative will be particularly helpful in improving the diversity of the entertainment industry.
“This will be one of the biggest drivers of change in entertainment,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
There is no organized opposition to the measure, but some critics — such as the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board — argue that the measure will tie the hands of lawmakers in any future budget crisis.
“If Californians want arts and music education to be a priority, they can and should start by electing school board members and lawmakers who will prioritize it,” the paper wrote, urging a “no” vote.
Beutner retired as co-CEO of Evercore Partners in 2008, following a bicycle accident, and has since devoted himself to a series of civic endeavors. He worked as a top deputy to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ran a brief campaign for mayor, served as publisher of the Los Angeles Times and led the nation’s second-largest school district for three years.
While superintendent, Beutner partnered with the Fender Musical Instruments Corp. to offer free guitars and lessons to middle school students. He also worked with Illumination, the animation studio, to provide animation instruction to high schoolers, and with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine to launch a new high school focused on entrepreneurship.
Beutner stepped down from LAUSD in 2021, but those relationships have carried over to the ballot measure campaign. Beutner is the single largest contributor to the effort, putting in $4.3 million. Fender has put in another $1.2 million, while Chris Meledandri, the CEO of Illumination, has given $25,000. (Penske Media Corporation, the parent company of Variety, has also contributed $100,000.)
The California Teachers Association is also a backer, putting in $2.6 million. Other major donors include Barbra Streisand, Comcast and Steve Ballmer.
Most of the money was spent on signature gatherers to qualify the measure for the ballot. Since then, the campaign has largely relied on its celebrity endorsers to generate “earned” media. SAG-AFTRA will hold a last-minute “virtually rally” on Monday to help get out the “yes” vote.
“This is really a feel-good story,” Beutner said. “Who could be against arts and music? Nobody can, if you’re not raising taxes. We should pass it by acclaim.”