>New Jerseyans warming to cuts to services

>We have a treasure-trove of data in this latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Today we release our findings on how voters are responding to possible budget cuts in specific areas and how little they want to raise revenue. This release talks a lot about last year – that poll was done a couple weeks after Gov. Chris Christie’s first budget speech. The 2010 release can be read here.

In a nutshell what we find is that fewer New Jerseyans oppose cutting across all of the budget areas we mentioned, though they remain most supportive of their schools and services for the poor. And, not surprisingly, they still don’t want to raise taxes or tolls, except on the wealthy. (Our initial budget release for this year discusses this as well.)

Full text of the release follows. A PDF of the text and tables for this release can be found here.

NEW JERSEYANS WARMING TO CUTS TO SERVICES, STILL MOST PROTECTIVE OF EDUCATION

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Despite divided opinions on Gov. Chris Christie’s budget, New Jersey voters are warming to the idea of budget cutting, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Following last week’s budget address, Garden Staters are less likely to want to protect a wide range of program areas than they were in March 2010.

Specifically, voters are 8 points less likely to say no cuts should be made to municipal aid, 10 points less likely to want to protect environmental programs and 12 points less likely to oppose cuts to colleges and universities than they were after the governor’s first budget address. At the same time, voters continue to oppose increasing revenue through higher taxes and tools.

“Governor Christie talked about the ‘new normal’ in his budget speech. For voters, the new normal appears to be greater acceptance of budget cuts,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “While Democrats still resist many cuts and are more likely to support revenue increases, independents are looking more like Republicans in their support for budget cutting.”

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Budget cuts: more protection for schools and programs for the poor

New Jersey voters are split in their reaction to the governor’s budget, with 45 percent pleased and 48 percent displeased. But when asked about specific services, support varies significantly.

For the second straight year, New Jersey voters are most supportive of their schools and programs for the poor. Half say there should be no cuts at all to state aid to schools while 13 percent want school aid cut more deeply.

In his budget, Christie’s proposed an increase in state aid to local school districts, though aid will remain far below pre-2010 levels. Last year, 57 percent said they wanted no cuts to school aid, while 15 percent wanted deep cuts.

Likewise, there remains significant support for programs to help less well off New Jerseyans, though support has also declined: 42 percent want no cuts in such programs, compared to 51 percent a year ago, while 16 percent want these programs cut more deeply, a 2 percent bump from 2010.

“New Jerseyans have warmed to program cuts – even to the most supported programs – to close the budget deficit,” said Redlawsk. “And while most still oppose deep cuts to education and assistance to the poor, more are willing to cut at least something.”

Two-thirds of Democrats are much more likely to oppose cuts in aid to school districts compared to 38 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents. More than half are against poverty assistance program cuts, versus about one-third of Republicans and independents. Last year, the latter were much closer to Democrats in their support of these programs.

Retired and unemployed voters see government programs for the poor more as much more important than those who are employed: 50 percent of retirees and 49 percent of unemployed New Jerseyans think that these programs should not be cut at all, compared to 39 percent of those employed full-time, and 34 percent of those employed part-time.

Large majorities OK other cuts

Garden Staters are significantly more willing to see cuts in other areas. Twenty-three percent oppose cuts to municipal aid, 29 percent to cuts in environmental programs, and 34 percent to cuts to public transportation funding. Another 37 percent oppose any cuts to colleges and universities. Voters especially seem more willing to see cuts to higher education than in March 2010, when nearly half said higher education should suffer “no cuts at all.” More than a quarter of voters want aid to local government and environmental programs to be cut “more deeply” for budget balancing purposes. Overall, voters are now more likely to support budget cuts in all programs presented in the poll.

GOP voters overwhelmingly favor cuts to environmental programs (80 percent) compared to independents (71 percent) and Democrats (62 percent). They favor “deeper cuts” to environmental programs to balance the state budget by a 42 percent to 13 percent margin over Democrats.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that state aid to local government should be cut, but Republicans and independents prefer deeper reductions. One-third of each group believes state aid to local government should be cut “more deeply” than other programs, compared to one-fifth of Democrats. Democrats also are more likely to oppose any cuts to funding colleges and universities (50 percent) compared to Republicans (28 percent) and Independents (29 percent).

Retired voters are more likely to oppose cuts to public transportation spending (42 percent), while other voters, even unemployed New Jerseyans, are more likely to support transit budget cuts.

Little support for tax and toll hikes

New Jerseyans overwhelmingly are against raising taxes or tolls to balance the budget, with the exception of a sales tax on “luxury goods,” supported by 75 percent of respondents. High earners (more than $150,000 per year) are more likely to support a luxury tax than those making under $50,000 per year by 81 percent to 64 percent.

“With consistent strong support for a tax increase on ‘millionaires,’ and now this, New Jerseyans seem happy to ask the rich to pay more,” said Redlawsk. “It is interesting that high-income voters are even more supportive. Maybe they also recognize the need to share the pain of the state’s financial troubles.”

In contrast, a majority of those polled oppose raising the gas tax (70 percent), the state income tax (73 percent), adding the sales tax to clothing (61 percent), higher highway tolls (57 percent), and increased business taxes (56 percent).

Looking at specific groups, high-income voters are less likely to support tax increases than those who are retired, unemployed or earning less than $50,000 per year.

“The take-home is a little different from last year,” said Redlawsk. “After a year of hearing how bad things are, voters are more willing to accept program cuts to balance the budget. But for the most part they are still completely uninterested in paying more.”

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