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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Tough Economic Times Continue in Garden State

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Property tax pessimism grows

Despite the official end of the recession, times are still tough for most Americans.  In New Jersey, that financial burden is made even worse by the state's highest-in-the-nation property taxes, according to the Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll .  Not only do property taxes continue to be seen as the least fair of all tax levies, they also outstrip other recurring expenses, such as mortgage payments and college tuition, as being the most difficult to pay.

Most New Jersey residents say that current economic conditions are causing stress in their lives, including 37% who say it causes serious stress and another 33% who say it causes some stress.  Despite the news that the recession officially ended in July 2009, the number of Garden State residents who say the economy is a cause of serious stress in their lives is up by 6 points in this poll, taken in September, compared to polls taken in both April 2010 and May 2009.

The poll asked residents to think about eleven different types of household expenses and to rate how easy or difficult it is to pay each.  While few people said any of these expenses are "very easy" to pay, two categories clearly emerged as causing the most difficulty - saving for retirement and paying property taxes.  About 2-in-3 residents say they have a difficult time meeting these particular expenses - 70% for retirement savings and 66% for property taxes - including more than 4-in-10 who find it "very difficult."  Fewer than 1-in-5 New Jerseyans say they have an easy time meeting these expenses - 15% for retirement savings and 17% for property taxes.

Since some expenses included in the survey are not incurred by all New Jerseyans, pollsters calculated an index score for each expense by subtracting the percentage who say paying these expenses are easy from the percentage who say they are difficult.  Retirement savings receives a financial difficulty index score of +55, followed closely by property taxes at +49.

"Saving for retirement is probably considered discretionary when trying to meet your household budget, so it's not surprising this most New Jerseyans say this is difficult to keep up with.  Among the bills which must be paid every month, though, nothing comes close to property taxes for inflicting financial hardship," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The next tier of household expenses that cause difficulty are college or school tuition (+31 index; 39% difficult - 8% easy) and paying out of pocket medical costs, such as deductibles and co-pays (+27 index; 60% difficult - 33% easy).  The next grouping includes fuel and utility bills (+18 index; 57% difficult - 39% easy), health insurance premiums (+17 index; 52% difficult - 35% easy), and mortgage or rent payments (+17 index; 47% difficult - 30% easy).

Paying federal income taxes is considered a little more difficult than it is easy (+9 index; 50% difficult - 41% easy) and New Jerseyans are split on the difficulty of paying state income taxes (0 index; 46% difficult - 46% easy).  Only grocery bills (-12 index; 42% difficult - 54% easy) and the state sales tax (-17 index; 39% difficult - 56% easy) tend to be seen as comparatively easy to pay for most residents.

Financial Difficulty Index *  








Retirement savings




Local property taxes








Medical deductibles/co-pays




Fuel, utilities




Health insurance premiums




Mortgage, rent




Federal income taxes




State income taxes








State sales tax

*  Calculated as percent who say paying this expense is "difficult" minus percent "easy"  

The poll results suggest that most taxes paid by New Jerseyans are relatively easier to meet than many other household expenses, with the glaring exception of property taxes.  It's not surprising, then, that when Garden State residents are asked to name which tax is the least fair, property taxes (62%) is the clear choice, as it has been in state polls over the last two decades.  Only 14% of residents choose the federal income tax, 8% pick the state income tax, and 8% say the state sales tax is least fair.

Even though the state recently enacted a 2 percent cap on future property tax increases, residents have become more pessimistic about seeing significantly lower property tax bills.  Only 22% say that lower property taxes are at least somewhat likely to happen in the next few years, compared to 22% who say they are not too likely and a majority of 53% who say they are not at all likely.  The current public outlook marks a significant negative turn since July of this year, just before the property tax cap was passed.  At that time, 49% were optimistic about the prospect of lower property taxes.  The current results mark a return to lower confidence levels about property tax reform measured during the first year of Jon Corzine's administration.

With regard to prior gubernatorial administrations, the poll asked residents to assess how much responsibility the state's prior governors carry when it comes to New Jersey's current tax and budget problems.  Nearly half (49%) say that the actions of the Corzine administration bear a lot of responsibility for the state's fiscal woes today.  Just over 1-in-3 place a lot of blame on both Christie Whitman (39%) and Jim McGreevey (34%).  According to 26% of the public, Jim Florio also carries a lot of the responsibility. 

Interestingly, the current governor, Chris Christie, is seen as largely responsible by 25%, but this is offset by the 32% who say he bears no responsibility for the state's current fiscal situation.

Just over one-in-ten residents say that other occupants of the governor's seat, including Tom Kean (14%), Brendan Byrne (12%), and Dick Codey (12%) bear a lot of responsibility.  Similarly, only 11% place a lot of blame on Donald DiFrancesco, even though the current governor has pointed to the unilateral pension increase DiFrancesco signed as one of the major causes of the pension problems facing the state today.  Of course, since DiFrancesco's eleven month tenure makes him the shortest serving chief executive on this list, it's not surprising that nearly half (48%) the public cannot offer an opinion one way or the other on his role in the state's current financial situation.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll  was conducted by telephone with 801 New Jersey adults from September 15 to 19, 2010.  This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.5 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the New Jersey Press Media newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).

The questions referred to in this release are as follows:

1.     How would you rate the overall quality of life in New Jersey – is it excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

2.     Is the current economic situation a cause of stress in your life, or not?  [IF YES: Is it a cause of serious stress, or stress, but not serious?]

3.     I’m going to read you some typical household expenses.  For each, please tell me if it is very easy, somewhat easy, somewhat difficult, or very difficult for you to pay for it?  If you do not have this expense, just let me know.  [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]

4.     Thinking about the different taxes that people pay, which tax do you think is the LEAST fair – the federal income tax, state income tax, state sales tax, or local property tax?

5.     How likely is it that the state will enact reforms in the next few years to significantly lower property taxes – very, somewhat, not too, or not at all likely?

6.     Looking back at past governors’ administrations, how much is [READ NAME] responsible for New Jersey’s current tax and budget problems – a lot, a little, or not at all? [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute on September 15-19, 2010 with a statewide random sample of 801 adult residents.  Sampling and live telephone interviewing services were provided by Braun Research, Inc.  For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.  Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups, such as separate figures reported by gender or party identification, are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample.  In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

It is the Monmouth University Polling Institute’s policy to conduct surveys of all adult New Jersey residents, including voters and non-voters, on issues that affect the state.  Specific voter surveys are conducted when appropriate during election cycles.

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.  

Download this Poll Report with all tables

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