Even Hollywood Stars Can't Save Calif. Prop 87

Endorsements by celebrities that include Ben Affleck and Julia Roberts and such political figures as Bill Clinton and Al Gore may not be enough to sell Californians on an oil-production tax that would pay for development of alternative fuels.

According to the Field Poll, people who plan to vote "no" on Proposition 87 lead by a slim four points (44 percent to 40 percent).

This is a seven-point slip for the "yes" side since a Field Poll in September showed Prop 87 leading by three points. The poll says 16 percent of voters remain undecided on the issue, which makes the outcome still a tossup.

"This is President Clinton and the American Lung Association versus big oil," said Yusef Robb of the "Yes on 87" campaign.

It's been a star-studded campaign backed by Jamie Lee Curtis, James Caan, Salma Hayek, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., British billionaire Richard Branson, and San Francisco's popular Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Clinton has been on the campaign stump and is featured in a frequently aired television spot telling Californians, "America has to change, but you can lead the way."

Most of the financial backing for Prop 87 has come from wealthy heir and Hollywood producer Stephen Bing, 41, who has contributed nearly $50 million of his own money.

Bing is a regular contributor to Democratic causes but is probably best known for fathering a child with model-actress Elizabeth Hurley.

Prop 87 would raise as much as $4 billion with a tax on oil produced in California. In addition to money spent on research and development of alternative fuels, some of the new tax money would be used to provide incentives for Californians to drive what the bill describes as "clean" or alternative fuel vehicles.

It's being sold as an environmental measure. Actor-director Robert Redford told a rally in Los Angeles that "This is the worst air in the nation by EPA standards. The problem is that the oil companies want to maintain the status quo for them because it's good for their business," Redford said. "It's time for that to stop."

In his endorsement, Branson said, "This will drive down the cost of fuel. You'll be able to drive cars that you won't be embarrassed driving because they're CO2 friendly."

It has not electrified, so to speak, California voters, who have seen gasoline prices in the $4 range within the past year.

Oil companies and opponents have put up about $90 million to stop Prop 87. Opponents, who include California's own celebrity governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, say Prop 87 will result in even higher gasoline prices in a state that already has the highest prices at the pump, and foster greater dependence on oil produced more cheaply out of state and out of the country.

Prop 87 is one of the more controversial propositions among 13 statewide issues on the California ballot. An initiative to put yet another tax on cigarettes to pay for anti-tobacco and health care programs is running even at 45 percent, according to the Field Poll.

And most of the California initiatives propose to raise the state's debt, or taxes.