- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

When New Jersey’s voters were asked last month what troubles them most, a whopping 41 percent said state and local taxes — dwarfing all other issues.

While major national issues such as border security and illegal aliens, skyrocketing gasoline prices and the war in Iraq dominate the nightly news shows and consume most of Congress’ attention, they aren’t always the issues that concern most voters.

A typical case is New Jersey, where Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine triggered a taxpayer rebellion when he proposed raising the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and property taxes remain a major complaint among most homeowners.

“When you ask people what’s bothering you, with the whole world of troubles to pick from and without any prompting, to draw 41 percent is a very big number,” said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which polled 1,414 registered voters from April 18 to 24. The survey has a 2.6 percentage point margin of error.

Both the sales-tax increase and rising property taxes loom as big issues in this year’s U.S. Senate race, where state Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., the Republican candidate, is focusing much more on local taxes.

“Mr. Kean knows President Bush isn’t popular in New Jersey, and so far he has decided to focus his campaign on local issues, rather than sweeping national concerns,” columnist John Fund wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week.

In a state that has been hit by numerous government scandals, the next closest concern was “politicians and corruption” which drew 8 percent, followed by the state’s budget, education and the economy, which come in third with 7 percent each. Gas prices were at 3 percent and immigration at 1 percent among the voters’ concerns.

Voters were similarly focused on bread-and-butter issues in Michigan, where the economy has been struck hard by factory closings and layoffs, principally among the Big Three automakers. The state unemployment rate stood at 6.8 percent.

“The economy and jobs is the No. 1 issue here by 40 percent or more. Every day it seems there is another plant closing or layoffs and downsizing,” said Democratic pollster Ed Sarpolus of the EPIC/MRA poll. “This trumps everything.”

The next closest issues in open-ended surveys “are health care and education; that poll in the midteens,” he said.

The worsening jobs picture threatens to endanger Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, once one of her party’s leading stars, who faces a strong challenge from Republican businessman Dick DeVos, tied with Mrs. Granholm in the latest polls.

“DeVos is no longer the underdog. The governor is the underdog,” Mr. Sarpolus said.

In Florida, education remains the overriding issue, drawing 24 percent in another open-ended survey, said Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac polling group. Immigration comes in second at 13 percent, but “that is double what it was in February. That’s a big change.” The economy comes in third, at 10 percent.

In Pennsylvania, as in New Jersey, polls show that property taxes are “the dominant issue,” said Leonardo Alcivar, chief spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann, who is opposing Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s bid for a second term. “They are excessive, and they are skyrocketing.”

Polls show the race is even.

The top issues have changed in Washington state lately, said Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick. A month ago, voters were asking him about where he stood on the war in Iraq, the budget deficit and curbing the growth in government. “Immigration and gas prices are the key topics right now when I meet with voters,” he said last week.

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