Governor Losing Budget War
April 24, 2003
New Jersey voters agree with few of the Governor’s proposed remedies for New Jersey’s looming budget deficit according to the most recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll. And while only a handful of voters believe that the Governor is directly responsible for the state’s budget woes, many are nonetheless dissatisfied with McGreevey’s performance as governor and believe the state is on the wrong track. The PublicMind poll of 820 registered voters was conducted from April 12 through 19 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
When asked who is responsible for the budget deficit, 28% of the state’s voters blame former Governor Christie Todd Whitman. By contrast, 24% of voters attribute the state’s budget problems to a weak economy, 13% cite the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and 8% blame cuts in federal aid to New Jersey. Only one in ten New Jersey voters believe that Governor McGreevey is responsible for the state’s budget shortfalls. “The good news for the Governor,” said Bruce Larson, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, “is that he is not being blamed for the budget crisis. The bad news is that voters are dissatisfied with him anyway.”
Only 28% say he has done an excellent or good job as governor, whereas 65% say he has done a fair or poor job. These views contrast sharply with New Jerseyans’ generally positive ratings of President Bush. Worse yet, only 26% of the state’s voters believe that McGreevey has done a good enough job to deserve re-election, while 56% said they would rather “see a new person in that job.”
Voters are more confident about the direction of the nation than the state. Some 39% percent of voters believe that New Jersey is on the wrong track, compared to 41% who think the state is headed in the right direction. By contrast, a majority of New Jersey’s voters (55%) believe that the nation is heading in the right direction, while only a minority (32%) believe the nation is on the wrong track.
New Jersey voters are following other news more closely than they are the budget debate. Only 19% of voters say they’ve read or heard a great deal or quite a bit about Governor McGreevey’s budget proposal. By contrast, 87% say they’ve heard a great deal or quite a bit about the war in Iraq and 65% report having heard a great deal or quite a bit about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Voters are hostile to many of the budget fixes currently under consideration. Sizable majorities oppose cutting state aid to colleges and universities (75%), eliminating substantial state funding for arts, culture, and history programs (70%), cutting health insurance for some low-income adults in the state’s FamilyCare program (85%), cutting state aid to New Jersey transit (66%), and halting increases in state aid for K-12 schools (74%). A significant majority (71%) also believe it’s a bad idea for the state to hold off on its contributions to pension funds for state employees, and most (53%) oppose allowing the state borrow more money against future revenues expected from its participation in a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Less opposition exists to trimming 1,000 state employees from the state payroll and establishing a new 7% tax on hotel and motel rentals, but even a plurality of the state’s voters think these are bad ideas.
“Many New Jerseyans think the government should close the budget gap with taxes and fees that don’t affect them personally” said Larson. Indeed, 66% of the state’s voters favor raising cigarette taxes by 40 cents per pack; 67% support a new, higher-tax rate for those who make more than $400,000 a year; 69% think it’s a good idea to increase taxes on casino revenues; and 61% support imposing sales taxes on the complimentary rooms and meals that Atlantic City casinos offer “high rollers.” Finally, 48% of the state’s voters favor eliminating the property tax rebate for families earning more than $100,000 per year.
“Most New Jersey voters don’t believe that balancing the state budget requires making difficult choices between program cuts and tax increases” said Larson. By 66% to 21%, voters believe that the budget can be balanced without raising taxes or cutting state programs if the state was more efficiently run. This opinion holds across party lines as well as most demographic groups. Larson added that “balancing the budget without either raising taxes or cutting programs is simply not realistic.
Contacts: Bruce Larson, 973-443-8727; Peter Woolley 973-670-3239
Radio actuality line: (201) 692-2846.
For more information, please call (201) 692-7032.