Admit it: you’ve read the two public questions on this year’s ballot over and over again, and the “interpretive statements” that purport to explain them, and you don’t know what to make of them.
First, you’re not alone. And second, there’s help.
A statewide poll released today reports that support for one of the two questions varies dramatically depending on whether a plain English version of the question or its official interpretive statement is read.
From an article in today’s Star-Ledger :
The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll out today focused on the ballot question that would put more restrictions on how the state borrows money.
When asked whether they support an “amendment to the state constitution to require all state agencies to get voter approval for any money they borrow through issuing bonds,” 75 percent of respondents said they would, while 9 percent would not. That statement was formulated by the FDU pollsters.
However, when the question was put to respondents using the actual “interpretive statement” found on the ballot, which is intended to explain the proposal, only 46 percent said they would support it and 28 percent would not.
From the PublicMinds website:
“When the question is in clear language, voters have the opportunity to form a definite opinion,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “When the question is put in legalese many people wont sort it out and cant make an intelligent choice.”
The ballot statement reads: “This amendment to the State Constitution will require voter approval of new laws that allow the State to borrow money by issuing bonds through any State agency or independent authority backed by a pledge of an annual appropriation to pay the principal and interest on the bonds.”
As to what the question means, here’s a clear explainer from NorthJersey.com, the website of the Bergen Record:
The goal is to make it tougher for the Legislature to pile up more debt. Right now, the state constitution only allows the Legislature to borrow up to 1 percent of its total budget. This year, with a budget of $33 billion, that limit would be about $330 million.
Legislators, however, have used independent state authorities, such as the Economic Development Authority, to get around that provision, borrowing billions without voter approval. The state still has to pay debt service on that borrowing, something that eats up billions in the state budget that could go to education, hospitals or property tax relief.
Voting “yes” for the first question would place the same borrowing restraints on state authorities, only allowing those authorities to borrow for projects that are backed by a dedicated tax or user fee. Voting “no” would maintain the status quo.
Voters should approve the question if they want to “constrain the Legislature from borrowing without voter approval,” according to a guide produced by the non-partisan League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
They should vote “no” if they feel “it is the job of the Legislature, elected by the people, to make funding decisions,” the league said.
And ditto for the second question, which has to do with municipal courts:
The goal of the question is to encourage neighboring towns to consolidate their municipal court services and save their taxpayers money by pooling court costs. Right now, local officials select the judges for their municipal courts. But if they join with neighboring towns for court services, the governor and Legislature take over the selection process.
Voting “yes” for this question would give the Legislature the authority to pass a law that would let local officials in the towns that consolidate court services select their own judges without state interference. Voting “no” would maintain the status quo.
Voters should approve the question if they believe “removing the governor and Senate from the appointment process will make it more likely that towns will explore consolidating municipal courts,” according to the League of Women Voters.
They should vote “no” if they like the current process, which “makes local politics less likely to play a part in the appointment process,” the league said.