BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the so-called “millionaires’ tax”—a state income tax hike on residents who earn over $1 million annually—sent to him last week by the Democratic-controlled Legislature for fear the 16,000 wage earners it would affect would bailout of the state and hurt the economy.
It turns out that 6-in-10 New Jerseyans who earn more than $75,000 annually say they would like to leave the state, compared to nearly half of those who earn less.
The finding is detailed in a Monmouth University Garden State Quality of Life poll made public Thursday.
Prof. Patrick Murray, the poll’s director, said the finding is alarming.
“The break point for this opinion seems to occur at the $75,000 mark,” Murray said. “There would be a clear impact on the state’s tax base if higher income earners follow through and leave the state while lower income earners stay. As such, this is a metric that deserves close monitoring in the coming years.
Murray added, “One of the more significant findings in this study is that higher income residents appear more likely to credit their hometowns and local areas rather than the state for their overall quality of life. This group is also more likely to express a desire to leave the state. If they do, it could have major policy implications for the life quality of future generations of Garden State residents.”
The poll found it’s good to be wealthy in New Jersey.
Not just for how New Jerseyans view their own personal well-being, but in how they perceive the quality of life offered by their state.
As may be expected, higher income earners have a better outlook on life and feel more secure,. For example, the poll found 93 percent of those earning more than $150,000 a year say their finances are good, compared to 48 percent of those earning less than $25,000. And while they have higher opinions of the quality of life offered in their corner of New Jersey, they are no more likely than lower income residents to feel affection for the state as a whole.
The poll shows a wide disparity based on household income. Those earning less than $75,000 a year tend to score lower than the statewide average of +21 (on a scale -100 to +100), while those earning more score higher.
Specifically, residents with household incomes below $25,000 score +11 on the Garden State Quality of Life Index, those earning between $25,000 and $75,000 score +18, those earning $75,000 to $100,000 score +25, those earning $100,000 to $150,000 score +30, and those earning $150,000 or more score +32.
The poll’s Quality of Life Index is comprised of two major components – ratings of the state as a whole and ratings of one’s hometown and local area. It is interesting to note that the income level variations in the index are based largely on how residents view their own corner of New Jersey rather than the state as a whole.
Specifically, when asked to rate New Jersey as a place to live, between 59 percent and 69 percent of New Jerseyans give a positive rating of excellent or good, regardless of income level.
However, when asked to rate their own hometown, the disparity grows to a wider range of 57 percent positive among the lowest income earners (under $25,000) to 85 percent positive for the highest income category in the survey ($150,000 or more).
Furthermore, when asked to rate their local area on a variety of issues ranging from safety to economic opportunities to the availability of cultural programs and health care, there is a clear income-based relationship. While nearly half of New Jerseyans earning over $150,000 (49 percent) score high on the poll’s Local Area Rating index, significantly fewer of those earning less than $25,000 (29 percent) have a similar positive score.
Income plays little role, though, when residents evaluate whether they are getting their money’s worth for their local taxes. Only about 1-in-3 New Jerseyans feel the quality of their local services is worth the taxes they pay. That number varies by only a few points – from just 29 percent to 36 percent – across income categories.
There is a significant difference, though, when residents are asked if they themselves could afford to buy a home in their neighborhood on their current salary. More than 6-in-10 residents earning six figure salaries say they could (67 percent for $150,000) or more and 62 percent for $100,000 to $150,000, dropping to 42 percent of those making $75,000 to $100,000, 28 percent making $50,000 to $75,000, 13 percent making $25,000 to $50,000, and just five percent of those earning less than $25,000 a year.
Among New Jerseyans who currently own a home that carries a mortgage, 44 percent say they could afford buying a home in their neighborhood today. However, only 30 percent of those who own their homes outright say the same. It is important to note that more than half the people who own their houses outright are retired, which probably contributes to the lower number. Most renters will likely keep renting for the foreseeable future, as only 11 percent say they could afford to buy a home in their community on their current salary.
The survey was a statewide random sample of 2,864 adult residents. The survey results were then weighted to accurately reflect the New Jersey adult population for gender, age, education, race, and county. The sampling error for the various income level sub-groups discussed in this report ranges from plus or minus 4.5 percent to plus or minus 5.7 percent.