As the fastest-growing state in the country tries to catch up with an influx of desert-bound transplants, Utah is still “the place”—just not the place for anymore Californians if its panicky governor gets his way.
Speaking from the White House on Friday, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox had a message for those looking to escape the Golden State for higher ground, red rocks, and an exploding population: Stay where you are.
“This last census confirmed that Utah… was the fast-growing state over the past 10 years, so, our biggest problems are more growth-related,” Cox told reporters. “We would love for people to stay in California instead of coming as refugees to Utah.”
Cox, alongside Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, said that because Utah is facing a housing and water shortage, the state would be better off if California incentivized its residents to stay put, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“We’ve had a lot of people moving from California into our state and growth is our biggest issue right now,” Cox later clarified. “We would love to see California cutting taxes and cutting regulation.”
Murphy and Cox, the Chair and Vice Chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), met with President Biden, other governors, cabinet members, and business leaders last week at the NGA’s annual winter meeting and discussed infrastructure, the economy, border security, and immigration.
Utah has, in fact, seen the most population growth in the country, increasing by 18.3 percent from 2010 to 2020 to 3,271,616. A report from 2021 found that Californians represented a far greater percentage of Utah’s inbound transplants than newcomers from any other state. The relationship—albeit unbalanced—is reciprocal, with the highest number of outbound Utahns heading for California.
With more people comes more demand for housing and water—both issues for Utah, with over 50 percent of the state experiencing a severe drought, affecting all 29 counties. On the housing front, researchers at the Utah Foundation say the Beehive State is still 45,500 units short, despite a mega house-buildings boom in 2021. The group cites Utah’s lack of “middle housing,” or multi-unit smaller buildings for a range of incomes.
Home prices have also continued to rise. Since 2019, the percentage of Utahns that can no longer afford the median home price has increased from 49 to 76 percent, according to Dejan Eskic, a senior research fellow at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The average rent in Salt Lake City is now $1,534, over $300 higher than in 2019.
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