Only 15 percent of New Jerseyans say they support the governor’s plan to raise tolls about 50 percent every four years for 14 years in order to reduce state debt and fund transportation projects. A majority of 56 percent oppose this plan.
After months of public speculation, Governor Corzine finally revealed his plan to restructure state debt and fund transportation projects by bonding future toll road revenues. And while the New Jersey public agrees with the governor that the state is in a fiscal crisis, the latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll finds that residents don’t like a toll-based solution, nor do they accept the premise that Corzine can’t do more to cut the state budget.
Only a week after unveiling the proposal, public awareness of the governor’s toll road plan is very high. Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) New Jersey residents have heard a lot about it and 30 percent have heard a little. Only 13 percent of the public are totally in the dark about the governor’s announcement.
The Governor has his work cut out for him if he intends to win over the hearts and minds of New Jersey residents. Only 15 percent say they support his plan to raise tolls about 50 percent every four years for 14 years in order to reduce state debt and fund transportation projects. A majority of 56 percent oppose this plan.
Another 29 percent of the public are withholding judgment for now. However, when the poll asked those with no opinion in which direction they lean, more said they were opposed. Combining these results with those who register an initial reaction finds that fully 70 percent of the public are at least somewhat opposed to the plan compared to only 24 percent who are inclined to support it.
Opposition to the plan is widespread among both Republicans (68 percent) and independents (57 percent), but the governor cannot even count on his fellow partisans for support. More Democrats oppose (48 percent) than favor (19 percent) this plan.
The New Jersey public also opposes adding a stretch of Route 440 between the Turnpike and Staten Island to the toll road network by a 49 percent to 13 percent margin, with 38 percent expressing no opinion on this aspect of the governor’s plan.
Governor Corzine stated in his State of the State address that New Jersey is facing a “financial emergency.” On that count, New Jersey is with him. Nearly all residents (89 percent) agree that the state budget is facing a serious fiscal crisis.
However, the Governor departs from the prevailing public view when he contends that the state cannot cut spending enough to balance next year’s budget. Specifically, the Governor said that he will find between $2 billion and $2.5 billion in cuts which will still leave a $1 billion hole. He said it will be impossible to make further cuts without hurting critical programs, and that the only options are raising either tolls or taxes.
About two-thirds (65 percent) of New Jersey residents part ways with the Governor on this point, saying they do believe it is possible to find a further $1 billion in spending cuts and waste reduction. Majorities of Republicans (77 percent), independents (69 percent) and Democrats (55 percent) alike believe that it is possible to find enough spending cuts to balance the budget without the toll plan.
Despite Corzine’s assertion that “pigs will fly over the Statehouse before there’s a realistic level of new taxes or spending cuts that can fix this mess,” only 22 percent of the public agree that further spending cuts should be off the table
Governor Corzine’s pledge to freeze the state budget next year is seen by some as a potential “sweetener” to win over public support. However, among residents who now oppose the plan, only 14 percent say this promise makes them more likely to support the plan. Among those who express no opinion at this time, only 18 percent say this promise would sway them towards favoring the plan.
Requiring that all new state borrowing be approved by voters does only slightly better in generating support for the toll road plan. Among those opposed, only 25 percent say the voter-approval borrowing requirement makes them more likely to support the plan. Among those with no opinion, just 29 percent say this requirement would make them more favorable toward the plan.
The governor hopes to raise more than $30 billion from this plan, with about half going to pay down the state debt and the remainder for transportation improvements. While most New Jerseyans oppose the plan itself, a majority (53 percent) feels that these types of dedicated uses are appropriate given the funding source. Another 35 percent say the money should go to other purposes. Putting more money into schools (20 percent) and reducing state taxes (17 percent) are the leading alternate uses for this revenue.
The poll also asked about current utilization of the state’s toll roads—the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, and Atlantic City Expressway—and found that most state residents would be affected by the toll increases. A majority of New Jerseyans report driving the state’s toll roads on a weekly basis, including 25 percent who do so at least 4 to 5 times a week and 26 percent who do so at least once a week. Another 22 percent travel toll roads at least once a month and 16 percent do so less often. Only 9 percent of all New Jersey residents report never driving on one of the state’s toll roads.
As may be expected, regular toll road users are more opposed to Governor Corzine’s toll road plan, but there is also little support among less frequent tollpayers. Specifically, 66 percent of weekly toll road drivers oppose the plan while only 13 percent favor it. Less frequent toll road drivers oppose the plan by a 48 percent to 17 percent margin. Even residents who never use New Jersey toll roads oppose (34 percent) rather than support (14 percent) the plan, although a majority (52 percent) has no opinion.
Significant toll increases could have a negative impact on local roads, according to the poll. If tolls more than double in the next five years or so, about half of weekly toll road drivers say they will seek out alternate routes for all (25 percent) or most (24 percent) of their current toll road trips. Another 22 percent will try to avoid toll roads for at least some of their current trips. Only 27 percent of weekly toll road users say they will not alter any of their current toll road use if the tolls go up significantly.
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 804 New Jersey adults from January 9 to 13, 2008. This sample has a margin of error of + 3.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Gannett New Jersey newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).