- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

New Jersey voters say the most serious problem confronting their state isn’t the war in Iraq, immigration or the budget deficit, it is taxes — on their property, purchases and at the gas pump.

This was the overwhelming response to an open-ended poll question that allowed respondents to give any answer they chose. No other issue — not the economy, education, crime, health care, government spending or even the tide of illegal immigration — even came close, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.

When asked, “What do you think is the most important problem facing New Jersey today?” 46 percent replied taxes — a percentage that was higher than any problem listed in any previous Quinnipiac statewide or national poll, the survey group said. The 46 percent included 19 percent who complained about all taxes, 26 percent who said property taxes, and 1 percent who said gas taxes.

“Almost half of New Jersey voters, an unprecedented number, say taxes are the biggest problem facing the state, and most of them mean property taxes,” said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

That response has deep political implications for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who ignited a taxpayer revolt with a proposal to raise the state sales tax to 7 percent, as well as in the U.S. Senate race, where Republican state Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. is making taxes a major issue in his bid to oust Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in November.

Mr. Kean’s campaign strategists think voter anger over the sales-tax increase plan and rising property-tax assessments, combined with Mr. Menendez’s reluctance to criticize Mr. Corzine, will help the Republican lawmaker reach out to the state’s heavily Democratic electorate.

“For two years now, we’ve been polling on this issue and found New Jersey voters consider property taxes the worst tax of all. Time and time again, they have been promised relief and nothing has happened,” Mr. Richards said.

Outside of President Bush’s recent victory in Congress, in which his tax cuts on capital gains and stock dividends were extended, the tax issue seems to have receded from the national agenda. But the latest New Jersey poll results, which mirror similar property-tax complaints in other states such as Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, suggest that it is becoming a growing local issue in the 2006 elections.

For Mr. Corzine, who won the governorship last year on a promise to enact property-tax relief for beleaguered homeowners, inaction on that pledge, followed by his sales-tax increase proposal, has turned a large number of New Jersey’s voters against him.

The Quinnipiac poll found that a whopping 70 percent do not think he will reduce property taxes, and 45 percent disapprove of the way he’s handling the state’s budget. Only 39 percent approve of the overall job he is doing.

Mr. Corzine’s actions recall the experiences of another Democrat, Gov. James Florio, whose $2.8 billion tax increase in 1990 led to his defeat in 1993 at the hands of Republican Christie Whitman.

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