As he introduces his proposed 2012-13 state budget Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie is prepared to urge the Legislature to approve his proposed 10 percent state income tax reduction, but a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds fully three-quarters of the voters surveyed would prefer to see a property tax cut come first.
The poll released Tuesday does show that 52 percent of voters support a tax cut.
Although the proposed income tax cut is popular across the state, an overwhelming majority of voters (76 percent) would prefer a property tax reduction. Given a choice between the two taxes, Republicans, Democrats and independents all agree that property taxes should be reduced first. Voters’ opinions of the governor do not seem to affect preference for property tax reduction. Those with a favorable opinion (80 percent) and an unfavorable opinion (74 percent) strongly prefer that a property tax cut come first. Eight-in-10 of the highest earning New Jerseyans – who would benefit most from an income tax cut - prefer to see their property taxes cut before income taxes.
“Everyone likes lower taxes,” Prof. David Redlawsk, the poll’s director, said. “But property tax cuts are what New Jerseyans seem to want. While recent changes pushed by Governor Christie have placed stronger caps on property tax increases, voters still want to see those taxes actually reduced. It’s one thing nearly everyone agrees on.”
The poll also found voters significantly overestimate how much money they would actually receive from an income tax cut. A New Jersey taxpayer making $50,000 would save a little less than $100 per year from a 10 percent income tax cut, and those making $100,000 would save about $275. Voters anticipate a median savings of nearly $750.
“People are eager for tax relief,” Redlawsk said. “Yet for most New Jerseyans the burden they feel comes from property taxes, more than from income taxes. A majority would certainly take an income tax cut over nothing, but large numbers have no idea how much they would save from Christie’s proposal.”
While there are strong partisan differences in support for the tax cut – 72 percent of Republicans want it, while only 38 percent of Democrats offer support – everyone agrees that a property tax cut is preferred. Nearly eight-in-10 Republicans and Democrats say cut property taxes first, and 73 percent of independents agree.
Results are from a telephone poll of 914 adults conducted statewide from Feb. 9-11. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Predictably, nearly three-quarters of Republicans favor the proposed tax cut, with 21 percent opposed. Independents support the proposal, 54 percent to 32 percent. Democrats statewide are dubious about this plan, with half opposed and 38 percent in favor.
The figures lead to an expected outcome: 71 percent of voters with positive feelings about Christie support a tax cut. A majority (55 percent) who feel unfavorable toward Christie oppose the plan.
Household income makes little difference in support for the tax cut: 58 percent who earn more than $150,000 annually and 53 percent who earn less favor the proposal. Gender also makes little difference: 54 percent of men and 50 percent of women say they favor the tax cut.
“While those at higher income benefit more in terms of dollars, that doesn’t seem to make much difference,” Redlawsk said. “Support for the proposed income tax cut remains consistent across all income levels.”
Christie’s income tax cut is less popular among the more educated; only 43 percent of voters with post-graduate education favor the proposal, while more than half of those with less education say they like the idea. Support for the tax cut is slightly higher among whites (54 percent) than among blacks(49 percent). More retired voters (55 percent) favor the savings than full-time workers (52 percent) or part-timers (50 percent). Fewer than half of the unemployed support the proposal.
35 percent of registered voters think a 10 percent tax cut would save them more than $500 per year, but reports suggest that a household would have to earn more than $150,000 in taxable income to save just over $500 in state taxes. Another 32 percent say they are unsure about their savings. Only 22 percent estimated their savings at $200 or less.
Support for the tax cut is greatly influenced by inaccurate perceptions of how much will be saved. Among the 31 percent who think they will save $750 per year or more, nearly two-thirds support the cut. Among those who expect to save less, support runs from 44 to 48 percent.
“Only 14 percent of voters report household incomes over $150,000,” Redlawsk said. “These respondents can expect savings above $500 from the proposed cut. But more than twice as many say they expect to save that much. People really do not have a good sense of how much they pay in state income tax and what a 10 percent savings means. This leads them to overestimate their own gain, which may affect their support for the proposal.”
Voters in households with lower incomes give the lowest estimate of their savings, though they still overestimate badly. About a quarter of those earning under $50,000 believe their tax savings would be more than $200, far higher than the $80 savings likely at $50,000 income. Moreover, 10 percent of those earning less than $50,000 and 15 percent of earners between $50,000 and $100,000 anticipate tax savings of more than $2,000.
“There is a great deal of misinformation about how much can be saved in state income taxes,” Redlawsk said. “Most voters appear to be guessing at best, and are guessing very high. One-third won’t even make a guess.”
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM