GEEWIZ who woulda thunk it?
By RICHARD KHAVKINE and BRANDON LAUSCH
The vast majority of New Jerseyans have little confidence in state leaders’ ability to improve the state’s financial picture, according to the latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll.
Nearly four out of five state residents polled — 78 percent — said that state government is not doing enough to control costs.
Contrary to Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s recent proposal, many prefer laying off state workers to deferring current pension obligations.
Corzine has proposed allowing local governments to defer some of their pension payments to make up for reduced state aid. The governor has also said that layoffs might be necessary if the state employee unions do not accept a wage freeze.
When asked for her thoughts on state leaders’ ability to control costs, Plainfield Republican Nancy Schmitz, 52, put it this way: “My general impression is that the Legislature and the politicians are putting an unfair burden on taxpayers and small businesses. There’s no relief.”
Unhappy with development fees applied to builders in the state, Schmitz said lawmakers should make it easier to do business in New Jersey and should better account for where taxpayer dollars are going. She also suggested merging municipalities or sharing services as a way to control government costs.
At the federal level, Schmitz was equally pessimistic as she criticized a government she called wasteful and filled with patronage positions.
“They’re looking out for their own benefit. There’s really no sense of service,” Schmitz said of government officials. “I just think they need to forget all these special interests and do what’s best for the majority here.”
According to the poll, which was conducted last week by telephone with 803 of the state’s adult residents, 44 percent of respondents said they would prefer laying off state government workers. Thirty-four percent said they favored putting off current pension payments, which would increase the state’s debt.
Another 15 percent rejected that trade-off, while 8 percent had no opinion.
The proposition, though, further breaks down along party lines, with Republicans favoring layoffs to pension-payment deferrals, 52 percent to 38 percent. Democrats are more divided, with 39 percent favoring layoffs and 43 percent pension deferrals.
Independents prefer layoffs to pension deferrals by 42 percent to 29 percent, although 29 percent reject this as a necessary trade-off.
“Jon Corzine is in a thorny situation. Ideally, these decisions would be based purely on the merits, but it’s hard to ignore the political ramifications in an election year. The governor can’t upset his base, but he must also build his standing among independents,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling institute.
Pittstown’s John DeMarrais, an Independent who leans Democratic, said Corzine likely has been overcriticized for “doing a resonably decent job” in a tough economic situation.
“The problems he has are overwhelming,” DeMarrais said of the governor. “Quite similar to when you have (President Barack) Obama, and he comes into this sort of morass. It’s almost impossible. Where do you turn?”
But DeMarrais, 76, did offer some solutions, including shared services, such as police and purchasing, or combining municipalities.
Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of poll respondents agreed that some sort of economic-stimulus package is necessary to improve the current economy. A smaller percentage, 55 percent, approve of Obama’s plan, which some have estimated could exceed $1 trillion. The poll’s sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
DeMarrais said he doesn’t have great faith that the proposed stimulus package “will arrest or take care of the problem,” but he said he’s sure “if we do nothing, it will be infinitely worse.”
Quentin Walsh, a 55-year-old Plainsboro Republican, described Obama’s proposal as “simply a spending program” that might have little effect on the economy because it would cause inflation and increase national debt compared to the jobs it may create in the short term.
Walsh said lawmakers should explore a dollar metric that attempts to quantify the amount of money being spent in the package to the number of jobs it is expected to create.
“Pick whatever number, but that dollar amount of spending has to create 100 jobs, and if you can get to there on that aspect then it deserves to be in the bill,” Walsh said to illustrate his metric. “If you can’t describe it or justify it on that basis, it has no business being in that bill.”
At a glance
What: A statewide poll conducted last week revealed that residents are skeptical of state leaders’ ability to control costs but are much more confident that President Barack Obama’s stimulus package can right the nation’s bleak economic picture.
• Only 13 percent of poll respondents said Trenton is doing enough to control spending, while 76 percent said Obama’s plan will have at least some impact in improving the economy.
• Roughly 40 percent said they are confident of their municipal and school board officials’ abilities to rein in spending.
• Just 32 percent had read or heard about Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s plan to help New Jersey deal with the financial crisis.