Even New Jerseyans can't stand living in New Jersey, according to a new poll that said nearly half of adults residing in the Garden State want to pull up stakes.
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll, released Wednesday, found 49 percent of those polled would rather live somewhere else.
New Jersey already is suffering from an image problem and bears the brunt of jokes because of its corruption and pollution problems. But 58 percent of those residents polled said the heavy financial burden of just living in the state is no laughing matter, and that's why they want to leave.
Poll participants cited high property taxes (28 percent), the cost of living (19 percent), state taxes (5 percent) and housing costs (6 percent) as the main reasons they want out. The poll also found that 51 percent of those who expressed a desire to leave planned to do so, with adults under the age of 50 making between $50,000 and $100,000 the most likely to flee.
"If you have the ability to leave and you don't see any possibility for change with the way the state is run — and that's the No. 1 issue here — you have to vote with your feet," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The study did not surprise New Jersey's politicians.
"The high cost of living in the Northeast is not news," Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for Gov. Jon Corzine, said in an e-mail statement. "But it is one of the reasons Gov. Corzine has worked tirelessly to help poor and working-class residents of New Jersey by implementing the Earned Income Tax Credit, expanding S-CHIP and increasing — and sustaining — property tax relief."
Gilfillan said Corzine also had cut costs by reducing the government workforce, though he noted people would continue to leave New Jersey as baby boomers retired.
"Demographics are only going to accentuate this trend, as the bulk of these folks have yet to leave the workforce," Gilfillan said.
But Republican Assemblyman Richard Merkt said it was the fiscal policies of the governor and legislature that were to blame for the exodus.
"It's no wonder that New Jersey is a national joke," he said. "We've done it to ourselves with these just positively irresponsible policies."
The Monmouth University poll, which was conducted over the telephone with 801 New Jersey adults from Sept. 27 to Sept. 30, did not predict a mass exodus, at least not yet. Of those residents polled, 44 percent would like to stay and 7 percent were not sure. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
But a Rutgers University report released last week found that New Jersey, with nearly 9 million people, is experiencing a population loss and said the number of residents who had left the state more than tripled from 2002 to 2006, with 231,565 people moving elsewhere.
The Rutgers Regional Report, which examined U.S. Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service data, noted 72,547 people left in 2006, ranking New Jersey fourth — behind California, Louisiana and New York — among states with the highest population losses in the nation.
High prices aren't the only thing driving people out. New Jersey ex-pats headed in droves to warmer climates, with 124,584 moving to Florida and 29,803 moving to North Carolina. Others (42,459) moved to neighboring Pennsylvania.
That migration depleted the state's tax coffers of an estimated $10 billion in personal income and $680 million in sales tax, according to the Rutgers report.
"This really illustrates among a lot of other things that the public has thrown up their hands," Murray said. "They don't feel that there's anything they can do that would change the situation."
And unless there's change, Merkt said, the flight will continue.
"One can only hope that the pendulum will stop swinging this way and start moving back the other way 'cause if it doesn't, you're going to see 9 million people suffer," he said.
"Or you're going to see the last person over the Delaware turn out the lights."