Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: Support for municipal consolidation has declined since 2010

As NJ Gov. Chris Christie renews his call for merging local governments as a means to get rising property taxes under control, Garden State residents express less support for the idea than they did in 2010, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Just 45 percent support consolidating their municipal government with that of a neighboring community, down nine points from a March 2010 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Opposition has climbed to 46 percent, up eight points.

“This decline in support may be partially a result of the smaller property tax increases seen over the last few years,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “While some towns have had large tax increases, many have not, which ironically may be reducing pressure to cut local government costs.”

Even as support for consolidation has dropped, views on the efficiency and quality of consolidated local services remain similar to four years ago. Today, 37 percent say consolidation would make local government more efficient, while the same percentage says it would not change things much at all. Just 18 percent are negative, expecting consolidation to make government less efficient. In 2010, results were nearly the same: 39 percent saw greater efficiency, 34 percent little change, and 22 percent believed combined government would be less efficient.

While nearly four in ten think consolidation means more efficiency, fewer say local services would improve. Just 20 percent think services would get better, while 27 percent says they would get worse.  Forty-four percent anticipate little change. These results are also little changed from 2010.

The prospect of stable or lower property taxes may reduce opposition to consolidation.  Non-supporters were given one of two follow-up scenarios: consolidation guaranteeing property taxes would remain stable for many years, or guaranteeing at least a 10 percent cut in property taxes.  Results show no significant difference between the two. Forty-six percent of opponents change to supporters in the case of stable property taxes, while 43 percent of opponents offer support in the 10 percent-cut case.

“Tying consolidation directly to property tax control changes the minds of many New Jerseyans, leading to a majority becoming supportive,” said Redlawsk. “We saw similar effects in 2010. No doubt this is because we offered a guarantee of tax stability or cuts in the questions. But as a new report from faculty of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers suggests, it is unclear if property taxes would really decrease as a result of consolidation.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: Support for municipal consolidation has declined since 2010