New Jerseyans Feel Overtaxed, Dissatisfied With State Handling of Financial Issues

 – April 10, 2019
New Jerseyans Feel Overtaxed, Dissatisfied With State Handling of Financial Issues

Most Garden State residents oppose raising taxes for the public workers’ pension system

As Tax Day approaches, about eight in 10 New Jerseyans feel they pay too much in taxes and are not happy with what the state government is doing about the affordability of living in the Garden State, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, conducted in collaboration with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA).

Eighty-two percent of residents think they pay too much in taxes for what they get, and large majorities believe the taxes they pay – namely, property taxes (79 percent), the 41.4 cent gas tax (77 percent), and the state income tax (62 percent) – are unfair. Only the sales tax sits well with residents, with over half (58 percent) saying the tax is reasonable.

“The answer is clear – New Jerseyans want reform when it comes to taxes,” said NJBIA President and CEO Michele N. Siekerka, Esq. “Overburdened residents and businesses are sounding the alarm that they have had enough and don’t feel they’re getting high value for what they pay.”

NJBIA poll 1New Jerseyans moreover feel the state government is not doing much to relieve the financial pressure. About eight in 10 are either somewhat or very dissatisfied with how the state government is handling the cost of living and affordability (81 percent) and taxes (78 percent). Over half are unhappy with how the government is handling the state budget (57 percent) and business and employment opportunities (52 percent).

“When it comes to residents’ overwhelming frustration with taxes and other financial issues in the state, little has changed in the past year and a half,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “New Jerseyans across the board – Democrats and Republicans alike – continue to be upset with what it costs to live in this state, what the government is doing about it, and with the idea of any new taxes.”

The last thing New Jerseyans want is to see their taxes increase to fully fund the state pension system. Eighty-nine percent oppose this as a possible solution to the current pension crisis. Instead, two thirds of residents would rather see state workers contribute more to their own pensions (65 percent); another two-thirds support changing public employee benefits to more closely resemble private health insurance plans (64 percent).

View the full poll results

Widespread Displeasure with Taxes

New Jerseyans across the board feel they pay too much in taxes for what they get in return; at least three-quarters of every demographic shares this sentiment. Most residents, furthermore, believe by wide margins that the taxes they pay – with the exception of the sales tax – are unfair. 

While feelings of unfairness regarding property taxes and the state income tax are about where they were a year and a half ago, discontent with the gas tax and the sales tax have heightened. Following the 4.3-cent increase last October, New Jerseyans are now a few points more likely than they were in November 2017 to say the gas tax is unfair (70 percent then compared to 77 percent now). And while a majority of residents are happy with the state sales tax, the number who say the tax is unfair has risen since last year (35 percent then compared to 42 percent now).

Residents Disappointed with Trenton’s Handling of Most Financial Issues

New Jerseyans have grown more frustrated over time with how the state government is handling a host of financial issues. Residents have not wavered in their overwhelming negativity toward the job Trenton is doing regarding taxes and the cost of living in the state, but dissatisfaction has increased by double digits when it comes to business and employment opportunities: 52 percent are now very or somewhat dissatisfied with the state’s handling of this issue, compared to 41 percent before Governor Phil Murphy took office.

On the other hand, views on how the state is handling government spending and the budget have markedly improved. Residents are still more negative than positive (57 percent to 42 percent) but by a much smaller margin compared to November 2017, with satisfaction increasing by more than 20 points and dissatisfaction dropping by about the same amount.

A majority is satisfied with how the state is doing on both K-12 (59 percent) and higher education (56 percent), though both numbers are down a few points since a year and a half ago.

Partisanship Colors Views on Taxes, Government Performance

Partisans of all stripes are disgruntled about the taxes they pay, including a majority of the governor’s own party base. Three-quarters of Democrats think what they pay in property taxes (74 percent) and the gas tax (73 percent) is unfair; 53 percent say the same about the state income tax.

Independents and Republicans are even more irate. More than eight in ten believe the amount they pay in property taxes is unreasonable (83 percent independents, 85 percent Republicans). Solid majorities of each group say the same about the gas tax (75 percent of independents and 84 percent of Republicans) and the state income tax (63 percent of independents and 77 percent of Republicans).

Majorities of Democrats (65 percent), independents (56 percent), and Republicans (50 percent) alike are accepting of the state sales tax, on the other hand – though to varying degrees.

Partisanship also plays a role in evaluations of the state’s handling of various issues. Independents and especially Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove of how the government is handling taxes (84 percent, 93 percent), cost of living (85 percent, 92 percent), and the state budget (62 percent, 79 percent). A majority of Democrats are unhappy with what the state is doing on taxes and cost of living, just to a lesser extent – 66 percent and 71 percent, respectively. Democrats are pleased with the government’s handling of the state budget, however – 61 percent to 39 percent.

Independents and especially Democrats are more satisfied than dissatisfied with the state government when it comes to education and business opportunities – though they feel much better about the former than the latter. Republicans feel differently, however: a majority of Republicans are dissatisfied with what the state is doing on K-12 education (56 percent) and business opportunities by large margins; Republicans are more split when it comes to higher education (47 percent to 52 percent).

NJCPA poll 2Support for Funding the Pension System Through Anything but Taxes 

When it comes to fully funding the pension system, few are in favor of a tax increase as a viable solution; in fact, residents are even less likely to support this option – by double digits – than they were three years ago. Support never reaches higher than 18 percent in any demographic group, including among Democrats (16 percent) and among those who have a public union member in their household (18 percent).

Support is widespread, on the other hand, when it comes to funding the pension system through asking workers for greater contributions and revising their health plans. A majority of every demographic supports each of these possibilities – including Democrats (60 percent and 58 percent, respectively). Those in union households are against increasing worker contributions (54 percent oppose) and are more mixed when it comes to reforming benefits packages (51 percent support to 49 percent oppose).

“New Jersey currently has $151 billion in pension liabilities and post-employment benefit obligations, and our long-term debt obligations have grown 382 percent over the last 10 years,” Siekerka added. “Structural reforms would serve as a much-needed alternative to increased or new taxes on overburdened businesses and residents and would greatly improve New Jersey’s fiscal challenges both in the short term and the long term.”

View the full poll results