New Jersey has a lot going for it. Let’s not forget that New Jersey’s public schools consistently rank among the best in the country. Most of us can easily spend a day in New York or Philadelphia. We have the Shore, bountiful farms and nearby mountains. And the best pizza and bagels (sorry New York). But with all that and more going for the Garden State, why are so many millennials ditching it?
The reasons for the exodus vary. Some high school grads attend colleges and universities outside the state and don’t return to their home state to become taxpayers. Many millennials simply can’t afford to live in New Jersey. They face huge financial challenges due to today’s high cost of college tuition and student loans, putting the purchase of a home or even a car out of reach. Millennials want a “live, work, play” environment, but many parts of the state lack walkable towns with access to reliable mass transit. According to Jim Hughes, the dean at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, "New Jersey's core advantage in the late 20th century — a suburban-dominated, automobile-dependent economy and lifestyle — is (now) regarded as a disadvantage."
So what can lawmakers, as well as business and education leaders, do to persuade millennials not to leave New Jersey? We turned to NJCPA members for guidance.
In a recent survey, respondents indicated overwhelmingly that “reducing taxes” would have the biggest impact on efforts to make the state an attractive place for millennials. “Bringing more businesses to NJ” was the second-ranked idea, followed by “building more affordable housing” and “improving mass transit.” And those millennials who took the survey ranked improving mass transit even higher, at third place.
Our members’ focus on reducing taxes is hardly surprising given that we already have some of the nation’s highest personal income and business taxes, and the highest property taxes. The NJCPA has supported a fair tax system that enables companies and individuals to thrive, but we fear that Governor Murphy’s proposed budget plan, with its emphasis on revenue raisers, may exacerbate an already dire situation with the state’s millennial population – though there is some reason for optimism with the Governor’s budget including a $242 million increase for NJ Transit.
Clearly, there is no silver bullet that will solve our millennial challenge, but many of the proposals that will make New Jersey more attractive to millennials — lower taxes, affordable housing, reliable mass transit, vibrant urban centers — will entice all generations to stay in the Garden State. One question remains: do our political, business and education leaders have the will, solidarity and creativity to make it happen?