Dec. 10--TRENTON -- New Jerseyans still like the job Gov. Chris Christie is doing, though they don't know much about what he'd like to do with it next.
Christie, a Republican re-elected last month by a 22-point, nearly 469,000-vote margin, garners a 65 percent job approval rating in the latest Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll released today. However, just 24 percent of registered voters have a clear idea of the specific policies he'll pursue in his second term -- similar to the 17 percent who said the same in February 2010, just after he first took office.
"Considering that he's got four years under his belt, it's an indication that the whole gubernatorial campaign was not about a second four years and what needs to be done to move the state forward. It was simply he got a good job evaluation, so he got his contract renewed," Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said.
Two weeks ago, Christie said on New Jersey 101.5 FM's "Ask the Governor" his priorities are cutting taxes and reforming education. He wouldn't elaborate on his agenda when asked last week, saying such details will be unveiled in his State of the State speech in January and budget speech in February.
An income tax cut was the top priority for 9 percent of voters, a distant fourth among five specific options. Christie pitched an income-tax credit this year that would eventually equal 10 percent of a homeowner's property taxes, but it wasn't approved by the Legislature. It's unclear if Christie will propose it again next year.
Voters say the most important issue for Christie should be jobs, which marks the first time in recent Monmouth/APP polling that property taxes wasn't at least tied for the top spot.
In an open-ended question about the most important issues facing the state, 36 percent said jobs. Another 10 percent said the economy or its downturn.
"Property taxes have to take a back seat for the first time in a long time," Murray said. "There's still a feeling out there that the economy just hasn't improved to the extent that we feel confident that it's on the right track and that it still needs help. The question is: What can the governor do about it?"
Arthur Macarios, a retired dentist from Brick, said creating jobs would be a "wonderful thing" and that a return of manufacturing jobs, which he sees as unlikely, would help. But while it's a top problem, it's more a national issue than one for a governor, he said. He wants Trenton focused on property taxes.
"We need to get rid of all the little towns," Macarios said. "I came from Connecticut and New York, and I never have seen the proliferation of fiefdoms that people have -- mayors, police chiefs, fire. No wonder everything costs so much money."
Property taxes were cited by 27 percent, down from 44 percent in February 2012. Murray said it isn't that people are satisfied about property taxes; in a September report card poll, Christie's grade on property taxes, C-, was lower than on any other issue. He said it reflects that there wasn't a robust conversation about the issue in this year's election.
"People start to say, 'If you're not going to do anything about it, I'm not even going to think about it,' " Murray said.
"Absolutely, property taxes is a serious concern," said Ed Dadson, a retired utility worker from Manasquan. "Not a lot of progress (is likely), I don't think. ... The biggest impact is the cost of education. If they could deal with that, how they would do it I don't know, that's the key issue."
Public education ranked as voters' third highest priority, cited by 22 percent of registered voters.
For Christie, the issue often means expanding charter schools, increasing options for city students to attend different schools or paying teachers through merit-based incentives. Kimberly Hornor of Brick, who has sued her school district over the education plan for her multi-disabled son, says special education needs to be part of the debate.
"They're the ones who actually write the rules for it. It starts with them," Hornor said of Christie and lawmakers. "They're letting them get away with it."
The poll finds 25 percent of registered voters expect Christie to make a lot of progress on their top issue, with 48 percent expecting a little progress and 24 percent who expect no real progress.
For only one of five specific issues posed to voters -- superstorm Sandy rebuilding -- were at least 3 in 10 people who see it as most important expecting a lot of progress. It was cited by as the top issue by 8 percent of respondents, half of whom expect a lot of progress.
Democratic President Barack Obama's approval numbers slipped to breakeven -- 47 percent approve, 47 percent disapprove -- nominally his lowest rating in New Jersey of his presidency.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat who was elected in October to a shortened term and must seek re-election in 2014, enjoys an approval rating among registered voters of 37 percent, compared with 21 percent who disapprove.
The Monmouth/APP Poll was conducted from Dec. 4 through Dec. 8 by telephone with 802 New Jersey adults, a sample size that yields a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The results were first published by the Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record and Home News Tribune.
Michael Symons: 609-984-4336; email@example.com
(c)2013 Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.)
Visit the Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.) at www.app.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Voters: Christie should focus on jobs before tax cuts
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