Still no love for Gas Tax Increase

Today we release new polling on support for – or should we say opposition to – increasing New jersey’s gas tax, one of the lowest in the nation. Despite crumbling transportation infrastructure and even when it is specified the money would only be used to fix that, just 38% say they are in favor of a higher gas tax. There is one small ray of hope for those who think we need to do this. When we last asked in April, support was even lower, at 31%. Maybe some messages about road and bridge conditions are getting through. But even so, New Jerseyans feel already overburdened by taxes, so they are pretty much against any increase for any reason, or so it might seem.

Full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with questions and tables.

TIME FOR GAS TAX HIKE IN NEW JERSEY? NOT FOR MOST RESIDENTS: RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL

New Jerseyans oppose tax increase, borrowing to repair crumbling roads and bridges

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While legislators debate the merits of a gas tax hike, New Jerseyans continue to oppose a higher levy by a wide margin, even as the condition of the state’s roads and bridges worsens.

Despite the Garden State’s crumbling infrastructure, 58 percent of respondents to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll oppose paying more at the pump to fund the much-needed repairs and other transportation costs. At the same time there has been some movement in favor of an increase: in early April, two-thirds of New Jerseyans were against a hike. Since then, the number favoring an increase has risen seven points to 38 percent.

Respondents were given a choice to pay a fixed, 15-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, to apply the current 7 percent state sales tax to gasoline purchases, or to borrow money for needed road and bridge repairs. The majority chose none of the above; 18 percent would apply the sales tax to gas purchases, 17 percent would favor an increase by a fixed amount and 8 percent would approve borrowing funds. Fifty-four percent refused to support any of the options.

“As has been the case every time we ask, New Jerseyans simply oppose a gas tax increase,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “While we see some shift towards more support, it is not yet clear if this is a blip or real change. Anyone who drives in New Jersey knows the roads and bridges are in terrible shape, but there seem to be little will to raise the funds needed to fix them.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 842 New Jerseyans contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, 2014, with a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.

Pockets of support grow

While no specific demographic group gives majority support to an increased gas tax, there has been significant movement in some quarters since the April poll. Democrats fuel much of the increase: an 11-point jump to 46 percent. Republican (up five points) and independents’ (up six points) show much smaller moves to 29 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

“It is not surprising that Republicans are the most dubious about more taxes, and that’s unlikely to change,” said Redlawsk. “Unless independents become stronger supporters, it will be hard to solve the problem of a broke transportation trust fund.”

Men and women show roughly the same increase in support: seven points to 41 percent for men and eight points to 36 percent for women.

The largest gains in support for a gas tax hike come from residents living in the state’s northwest exurban area (up 12 points to 43 percent) and in south Jersey/Philadelphia suburbs, where support jumped 16 points to 44 percent. Only one in three shore residents favor a tax increase (a six-point gain since April). Urban residents show virtually no change at 38 percent, while suburban support is up only four points to 36 percent.

Garden Staters from lower income households are strongly against an increased gas tax: 64 percent living in households earning less than $50,000 oppose it, as do 56 percent of residents in households making between $50,000 and $100,000. But those making more are more supportive: 50 percent of residents with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 are in favor, along with 48 percent of the highest earners.

Borrowing is the least attractive option

While support for a specific gas tax option varies across groups, borrowing funds is the least popular of the three options for all. Among the 38 percent of residents who initially support a gas tax increase, nearly four in 10 prefer a fixed increase of 15 cents per gallon, while 29 percent would prefer applying the sales tax to gasoline purchases. Only 7 percent would borrow the money (instead of raising the gas tax), but another 23 percent do not like any of the options provided.

“While most initial gas tax supporters choose one of the options we gave to increase the tax, a significant minority rejected both gas tax approaches, despite their initial support,” said Redlawsk. “This may reflect rejection of an increase after hearing specific proposals, or they may be unwilling to pay the amounts we suggested.”

Slightly more than ten percent of the New Jerseyans who initially opposed a gas tax increase actually support adding the sales tax to gasoline when faced with a list of ways to pay for transportation infrastructure. Three percent pick a fixed gas tax increase, and 8 percent would borrow. But 75 percent oppose all three approaches.

“Initial gas tax opponents basically appear to be willing to accept the current situation, seeing none of the proposals as viable solutions. Most seem to reflect a strong anti-any-tax response,” added Redlawsk.

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