Monmouth Poll: voters like cap, but preferred a hard cap

Although many state residents approve of a 2 percent property tax agreement, more wanted a hard cap over a soft one, and a majority say a cap won’t fix the structural problems that cause high property taxes, according to a Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll released this morning.

Among a group of 3-in-4 New Jerseyans who say they are familiar with the special session, 48% approve of the deal reached by the governor and legislature compared to 31% who disapprove. However, it is not clear that these residents are actually aware of the plan’s details. Asked about specifics regarding the 2 percent cap with exemptions for health care, pension, and debt payments that Gov. Chris Christie will sign into law this afternoon, only 35% of New Jerseyans say they favor this type of cap versus 45% who oppose. By comparison, a majority of 54% favor a hard 2.5% cap like the one the governor originally proposed, with 31% opposed. 

 According to the poll, Republicans support the hard cap (72%) over a soft cap (40%). Democrats support a hard cap (45%) over a soft cap (29%) and independents are significantly more likely (54% to 36%). Among those who claim to have paid a lot of attention to the past weeks’ events, preference for a 2.5% hard cap (66%) is much higher than for the 2% soft cap (39).

 “The governor appears to get credit for doing something on this issue, especially since few New Jerseyans are likely to be aware of his stand-down from a hard constitutional cap to a soft statutory one,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “This may not hurt Chris Christie’s public standing in the short term, but in the long run, he will be judged by his ability to lower property taxes, rather than just slow the rate of increases.”

 Just 12% of those polled believe that a property tax cap will actually fix the underlying problems that cause the state’s high proerty taxes.  The overwhelming majority – 74% – say those problems will persist even with a cap in place.

 “Some residents also worry about the impact a property tax cap will have on local services,” according to the poll. “While the large majority of New Jerseyans say that the quality of local services (63%) and schools (61%) in their towns will not be affected by the property tax cap, about 3-in-10 fear the cap will cause those services to get worse.”

 The poll reports widespread support for submitting a district’s teacher contract agreement to the county level superintendent for final approval (57%), but there is less support (33%) for eliminating the ability of laid-off workers to “bump” other employees with less seniority.

 “The recent drama at the Statehouse focused on the property tax cap, but many other provisions of the plan await action.  Governor Christie still has some work to do to convince the public that all these measures are needed to achieve significant property tax reform,” said Murray.

 Under half (49%) of the public say it is at least somewhat likely that the state will enact significant property tax reforms in the next few years, up from the 42% who said the same five months ago. But only 10% are confident that such reforms are very likely to happen.

 The poll also found that New Jerseyans continue to blame a wide variety of causes for the state’s property tax burden.  More than 6-in-10 residents say that waste and fraud (70%) and high public employee salaries (63%) contribute a lot to this problem.  A majority also count pensions and benefits (53%) and the number of towns (57%) and school districts (55%) among the list of major contributors.”

 Monmouth/Gannett conducted by telephone with 801 New Jersey adults from July 7 to 11.  This sample has a margin of error of + 3.5 percent, according to Murray.

Monmouth Poll: voters like cap, but preferred a hard cap