A new Monmouth University poll finds most New Jerseyans support the idea of requiring the state to make full payments into the pension system. But there’s a catch.

Voters support the idea as long as they don’t have to choose between making those payments and funding other important programs.

Earlier this year the state legislature passed a resolution calling for a Constitutional pension obligation to be placed on the November ballot, and if the resolution is passed again by lawmakers the question will go before the voters this fall.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said voters were asked whether they would support a Constitutional provision to require the state to meet its full public employee pension payment every year, and “we get 71 percent of New Jersey voters who say they would vote to support that, and only 18 percent would oppose it.”

He noted support comes from 82 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and even 56 percent of Republicans.

But when voters were asked whether they would support making a full pension payment or a payment to fully fund schools, a majority of voters — 63 percent — picked funding schools.

“When it comes to making needed road and bridge repairs, 59 percent of New Jerseyans say make those repairs, versus 30 percent who say no, make the full pension payment first. And when it comes down to funding services for the poor, 58 percent say fund those services before fully making that pension payment. Only 28 percent agree with the pension payment comes first.

Murray says these numbers suggest that “there’s a big question about whether people really understand what they’re voting for."

He noted having done ballot initiatives and polling New Jerseyans for more than 20 years, “there’s no question that people are going to walk into the voting booth, see this question there, read the description as it’s written right now, and not understand what they’re voting for, and vote for something they really don’t want.”

Murray stressed the language used in the question makes no mention of cost, or the fact that there’s only a finite amount of money in the state Treasury.

“The question simply asks should the state meet its obligations, and most people say yes, absolutely, the state should meet it’s obligations. But when it comes down to making hard choices between the pension payment and other important issues, people will say well we’ll have to look at those other issues and how important they are to us.

"People don’t understand it and they won’t understand it when they walk into the voting booth, because the question itself is totally silent on those costs and those tradeoffs they’re going to have to make. We’re talking about an uninformed public who are going to make a constitutional decision that’s going to hurt their pocketbooks for a long time without really understanding the decision that they’re making.”

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 806 New Jersey adults from May 23 to 27, 2016. This release is based on a sample of 703 registered voters and has a margin of error of + 3.7 percent.

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