New perspective: Brandon McKoy, new president of NJPP, outlines his vision for organization

Brandon McKoy was named the new president of New Jersey Policy Perspective on Wednesday. A Jerseyan through and through (raised in South Orange, attended The College of New Jersey for undergrad and did his graduate work at Rutgers University), McKoy said he’s passionate about helping the state become bigger, better and bolder.

“New Jersey’s got a lot of great things going on, and we need to talk that up more and more,” he said. “That comes through in our issues and our problems. We need to expand our horizons and look beyond our state borders to really get a sense of what’s possible.”

McKoy, 32, gave ROI-NJ his first interview since taking the top spot. We asked him to detail five big areas NJPP will concentrate on under his leadership:

  1. Pushing for proper investments in state assets

One of the major things that we as an organization are certainly known for is advocating for proper investments in the state’s assets, whether it be education, fair housing, transit. We’re going to continue to continue to do that.

Just seeing how much transit and higher education and initiatives to make communities more affordable have fallen by the wayside over the better part of the past decade was very distressing. And, then, it’s no surprise when you see the state’s economy sort of becomes sluggish and slow.

One thing that we will certainly continue to do in a very strong and attentive and aggressive manner is argue in favor of investing in our assets. It is really not an option. If you don’t have assets and you don’t have the primary things that attract people to not only live in your state, but want to work and locate a business in your state, you’re doing it wrong.

With transportation, you need to make sure that it is reliable and timely. Just think about the fact that most of the conversations about NJ Transit is trying to get it back to where it was eight years ago instead of where we should be adding lines and where we should be adding stations. And not just train stations, bus stations, rapid transit — all types of transportation.

My degree is in urban planning with a hefty dose of public policy. I have an urban planning brain and sort of just look at the state and where we want to grow and want to grow, and there needs to be more transportation access. That’s not going to come with tax subsidy dollars that are solely focused on private jobs development. It’s going to come by making a concerted effort to put state resources towards those issues.

  1. Keeping a keener eye on underserved communities

I think for the moment that we are in, in New Jersey and nationaly, it’s really important that for whatever policies are being discussed and whatever analysis is being done, to have officials have a keen eye and give careful consideration for the ultimate impact on underserved communities with considerations to race, to gender, to ability, to education level and particularly, poverty level. At NJPP, we will be a little bit more intentional when we do reports about having a racial- and gender-equity analysis lens when we’re delivering information.

I think people would genuinely expect and deserve this information in this day and age, because that’s the type of information that’s going to help drive quality policy and make sure that we’re making the right decisions.

  1. Communicating our message in new ways

In regard to how we communicate as an organization, we need to be much more aware of the fact that the world is a different place in 2019 than it was when this organization began in 1997 and even when Gordon MacInnes took control seven years ago. We need to have the ability and the capacity to produce our reports in a way that reaches more people.

Obviously, we’ll continue to do that through spreadsheets and documents and all that good stuff, but we have to reach people where they are. That’s going to mean a lot more video and that’s going to mean a lot more social media, and not in a way that’s going to be crass or in a way that’s going to be shorting the importance of the issue. I think a lot of concerns that people have with social media is that it can pique people’s attention spans for only so long, so how much do we really do? But you can communicate the top-line issues of a report in a short amount of time and drive people to find out more about the issue and dig into the report themselves.

I think any organization that does the work that we do going forward, needs to be better about that. And NJPP will be better about that.

  1. Fighting for a fair tax

I think there’s a lot of folks in New Jersey who consider themselves to be middle class, who are not the furthest thing from it, but they are not middle class. In regard to how we structure our tax code, that group often is the loudest and gets the most attention and sort of kills or stops a lot of good policies moving forward.

Right now, you have a situation where a lot of really middle-class households in New Jersey pay more in a share of income then the richest, wealthiest households in the state. We want to continue to fight for a more progressive tax code that ensures that the wealthiest are paying their fair share. We look at other states that have implemented taxes in this way. They are progressive and assure that those who have a higher ability to pay taxes, pay more. You see those states simply doing better, having less issues with income inequality, driving down poverty a bit more and having more resources with regards to critical revenues, to investing sorts of tax credits and credit policies that benefit low- and middle-income households.

I think that California is pretty decent on this. I know that Massachusetts is moving toward more progressivity in its tax code. New York is always a good one to look at and I think Minnesota is also pretty good. Look at the states that did well coming out of the recession and where were the decisions that they made immediately prior to and during it. A lot of them asked more of their wealthiest households during the recession and that allowed them to make investments that were critical, so, at the time the recession ended, they came out of it stronger and they came out of it quicker. I think the state needs to learn that lesson because it seems like we might have a recession coming around the corner.

  1. Thinking bigger

I think the state and a lot of the leaders in the state need to do more to think big. A lot of times the conversation in New Jersey is confined to this box of New Jersey’s immediate history: What have we done, what are our challenges and what are our specific issues that we just can’t seem to find a way to get over? When we keep that conversation in that box, we all lose.

We need to expand the scope of what’s possible. There’s a lot of interesting and promising and innovative policy happening around this country and around this world. And, if we really want to address our issues, we need to expand our horizons and be much more intentional about looking at what other places are doing, really be curious about what’s happening across the country.

New Jersey should be taking all of that in and expanding the conversation and talking about what we see other folks do and what other places are doing. I just think that, too often, we allow our conversation to remain small. NJPP is going to play a very big part in trying to expand our conversation, trying to help people think big and have a bold vision for our state.