WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert has decided to hold field hearings around the country to see what Americans think about the immigration issue that has dominated so much of Congress's time this year.
If one of those hearings is held in New Jersey, the message he will get is "not much."
According to a survey by the Quinnipiac University poll, New Jersey's voters say that the most serious problem facing their state isn't the budget deficit, terrorism or Mexican immigrants. It is taxes -- on their homes, their purchases and at the gas pump. This was the overwhelming response to an open-ended polling question that allowed respondents to give any answer they chose, without prompting from the pollsters. No other issue -- not the economy, health care, crime, government spending or even the tide of illegal immigration -- came close, the Quinnipiac poll reported this month.
When asked, "What do you think is the most important problem facing New Jersey today?" a whopping 47 percent said taxes -- a percentage that was higher than any problem ever listed in any previous Quinnipiac statewide or national poll. That 47 percent included 19 percent who said all taxes, 26 percent who said property taxes and 1 percent who singled out gas taxes.
"Almost half of New Jersey voters, an unprecedented number, say taxes are the biggest problem facing the state, and most of them mean property taxes," said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
That response, six times the nearest issue named (immigration drew a 2 percent response), has deep political implications for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who has ignited an angry taxpayer revolt with his proposal to raise the hated state sales tax to 7 percent.
It also has a potential spillover effect in the ever-tightening U.S. Senate race, where Republican state Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. has made taxes a big issue in his bid to oust Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in November.
Kean's campaign advisers think that voter anger over Corzine's sales-tax hike and rising property taxes -- combined with Menendez's reluctance to criticize Corzine, who named him to fill his remaining term in the Senate -- will help Republicans cut into the state's heavily Democratic electorate.
Polls show the Democrats are just as angry over Corzine's push for higher taxes -- and former Congressman Menendez's voting record in the House reveals a lawmaker who never met a tax increase he didn't like.