Jerseyans Blame Politics For State's Budget Woes

The Record ( — Thursday, June 5, 2008


New Jerseyans attribute the state's multimillion-dollar budget problems mostly to a sleazy political culture, according to a poll released by a public-interest coalition Wednesday.

The majority, 41 percent, said the system – rather than any one person or political party – was to blame. Eighteen percent cited waste, fraud and mismanagement; 12 percent cited unnecessary appointees; and 11 percent cited past administrations' revenue gimmicks.

Only 6 percent of respondents said Governor Corzine was responsible for the state's fiscal mess.

The survey, commissioned in April by the 30-member Better Choices Budget Campaign, asked 803 New Jerseyans to consider the state's multimillion-dollar budget shortfall and project how the state could both avoid such gaps and raise revenue.

Better Choices said that if the state adopted all its revenue ideas – from restructuring income taxes to raising the alcoholic beverage tax – New Jersey would raise $847 million for fiscal 2009 and $972 million for fiscal 2010.

"The poll shows ... that people are further along in this process than the people in the State House are," said Jon Shure, executive director of the non-partisan public-issues group New Jersey Policy Perspective and a member of Better Choices.

Fifty-nine percent said they did not support Governor Corzine's proposed budget – $33.3 billion at the time – and they most strongly objected to cuts for prescription drugs, hospitals and nursing homes, and municipal aid.

To raise money, 80 percent of respondents said they supported closing corporate tax loopholes.

A majority even supported raising income taxes – if it had such trade-offs as no layoffs or cuts in services – increased property-tax rebates or "meaningful" property-tax relief.

Seventy-nine percent supported increasing taxes on incomes above $250,000 – a move that would generate more than $400 million in state revenue. Sixty percent said they supported increasing taxes on those earning more than $75,000.

Fifty-nine percent said they would not be willing to forgo property-tax rebates, even for a statewide savings of $2 billion.

In February, the Corzine administration proposed a $33.3 billion budget that envisioned closing nine state parks and dismantling the Department of Agriculture. In recent weeks, the budget has grown to $33.4 billion, and the governor has backed off the parks and Agriculture plans.

Even with $533 million in unexpected revenue, the state still has a $200 million gap for fiscal 2009.

The respondents' suggestions are too late to enact for the coming budget year. But Shure said the poll could affect the budget process in coming years.

"It's been a long time since New Jersey put the entire tax structure under the microscope," he said.

About the poll: The members of Better Choices include New Jersey Citizen Action, the Puerto Rican Family Institute, the state chapter of the Sierra Club and other social-action and labor groups, its pollster, Benenson Strategy Group, conducted teiephone interviews with registered voters from Aprii 16 to 21. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.46 percent.

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