As goes the New Jersey governor’s race, so goes its open space.
The tight Nov. 3 contest between Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, and Republican candidate Chris Christie isn’t the only issue that’s down to the wire.
Recent polls show voters supporting a $400 million bond referendum by a narrow margin, but one questionnaire indicates the borrowing question is in a statistical dead heat. The open-space initiative could follow the same fashion as the gubernatorial race, with those in favor of the borrowing voting to re-elect Corzine and those opposed to the bond measure supporting Christie.
“There’s a real connection to the governor’s race — that is, people who plan to vote for Corzine are much more likely to say they’ll vote for the bond as well,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll and professor of political science at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. “And those who say they’re going to vote for Christie are much more likely to oppose it. So, the other thing that’s going to play out here is who’s doing better in the governor’s race, which does appear at the moment to be a bit of a toss-up.”
Challenging Corzine and Christie is independent candidate Chris Daggett.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Oct. 23 — using the terms “borrow” and “borrowing” — showed that 43% of likely voters opposed issuing $400 million for open space while 41% approved of the bonding. Another 16% of likely voters said they did not know. The survey included 583 participants and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1%.
Of those in favor of the $400 million bond measure, 51% plan to vote for Corzine, 30% plan to vote for Christie, and 40% plan to vote for Daggett. Of those against the borrowing, 32% support Corzine, 56% intend to vote for Christie, and 47% support Daggett.
Other polls that do not include the words “borrow” or “borrowing” indicate greater support for the land-preservation measure. Fairleigh Dickinson University Friday released a poll showing that of 694 likely voters, 52% approved $400 million of bonding, compared to 33% opposing. Another 15% don’t know. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.
The Fairleigh Dickinson survey asked if voters “approve or disapprove of this proposed bond issue” and indicated that “the state would issue $400 million in bonds.”
The $400 million bond issue is the only state-wide ballot question and it does not include the words “borrow” or “borrowing.”
According to an earlier Fairleigh Dickinson poll result, support for the $400 million bond issue has decreased. An Oct. 6 poll showed 56% of likely voters in favor of bonds for open space — higher than Friday’s 52% result — while 31% would not vote for the bond issue, which is two percentage points below the Oct. 30 poll.
Another poll conducted by Monmouth University and Gannett New Jersey and released on Oct. 23 does not include the terms “borrow” or “borrowing.” In that poll, 55% of likely voters said they would support the $400 million bond referendum while 32% said they would not vote for the measure. Another 12% said they didn’t know and 1% said they wouldn’t vote either way. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.
If voters opt to vote down the $400 million of borrowing, it would be the first time in New Jersey’s history that the majority of voters disapprove of bonding to keep the Garden State Preservation Trust funded. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the U.S.
In 2007, voters approved $200 million of borrowing for the trust, yet that bond bill passed by a vote of 54% to 46%, a tighter margin than many were anticipating. While many view open space as an important and necessary issue, New Jersey has about $32 billion of outstanding debt with principal and interest payments taking up nearly 10% of the state’s fiscal budget.
“Voters have typically supporting open-space borrowing, although it hasn’t always been an overwhelming majority,” Redlawsk said. “And of course we’re in an economic environment that’s quite different than what we’ve been in in prior times. One of the things that is highly possible is people will interpret this borrowing in the context of the overall economic environment.”
The trust typically operates on roughly $200 million per year and ran out of funds on June 30. Lawmakers earlier this year cut the bond bill to $400 million from $600 million, in hopes of gaining more voter support.