Our favorite (Jersey) things: Our interviewees tell us what they would do if they were Business Czar for the day

We like to have fun in our year-end Interview Issue — our annual give-and-take with some of the state’s most interesting and impactful leaders.

So, in addition to questions about their specialty areas, we asked all of them these three questions:

  1. Who is your favorite Jerseyan in history?
  2. What is your favorite thing about New Jersey?
  3. What would you do if you were business czar for the day?

Here’s what they had to say about Question No. 3:

What would you do if you were business czar for the day?

Christopher Eisgruber, president, Princeton University: “One of the things we’re really going to want after this pandemic is to bring back the restaurants that have been badly affected. That’s going to matter to attracting young talent and keeping it here. One thing that stands in the way of aspiring chefs that might want to start interesting places that are cool and attractive to young people are the state’s liquor laws — in particular, the difficulty that restaurants have in getting licenses in the state. I think it puts us at a real competitive disadvantage, by comparison to New York and Pennsylvania. So, I’m going to put in a plug for our restaurant industry on that, and for the importance of having cool places that attract young people.”

Ralph Izzo, chairman, CEO and president, PSEG: “I think you’ve got to lower the tax rate. I’m not a registered Democrat, nor a registered Republican, for obvious reasons, we’re so highly regulated. But Ronald Reagan used to talk about the fact that, ‘Don’t people understand that companies are people — and, when you exact a cost from them, they just pass it on to their customers? We are a regulated company, so our taxes are in our rates. This isn’t parochial. This isn’t anything that has to do with (Public Service Electric & Gas). But I did think that, when you take 2.5%, 3%, 1% off a company more than others do, you just create a disincentive. Now, if you need the money — and we do — perhaps you can replace that with something like a carbon fee. Something that I think is good. I think wealth creation is good and taxing it is bad. I think polluting is bad and taxing it is good. So, I like to tax bad things. Because I think that’s a good thing to do.

“Fortunately, we have talented people with a great K-12 education system. We have a range of places where you can live, whether it’s a city or a suburban area — I live in a pretty rural area. So, we’ve got that going for us. We’ve got the Shore, we’ve got plenty of sports and entertainment. So, we have a lot going for us. But we don’t have a lot of businesses flocking to the state, and I think there’s got to be a reason for that.”

Amy Mansue, CEO, Inspira Health: “I think putting people in other people’s shoes for a month would be a good idea. I think the opportunity for people in business to actually see how hard it is to run government would be great. It’s a huge business. People are quick to say, ‘Government’s inefficient — it’s this, it’s that.’ But, when you’re on the outside, you have no idea how difficult it is on the inside. How every single day, any number of things could blow up and take you off your message and off your focus.

“And, at the same time, I would say to government officials: ‘If you actually haven’t had an opportunity to run the things that you’re regulating, you shouldn’t be doing it. Because you have no idea how hard this actually can be — living within regulations, living within the competition, living within the consumer demand.’

“Everybody underestimates how tough the other side has it. Having had the privilege of sitting on both sides of this, it is very humbling to really get the breadth and depth of it.”

Tammy Murphy, founding chair, New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund: “My magic wand would be having every single person in New Jersey find a way to help us get money out of the federal government, because nothing is going to happen in New Jersey without help from the federal government — and they, thus far, unilaterally have not done what they need to do.”

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.): “If I could wave a magic wand today, it would be to make sure that we had all of our schools set up with safe filtration and Plexiglas, if need be — whatever it takes to get our kids back in school. I think adults have been surprised at how well we’ve been able to transition our work online and learn to communicate a new way. It’s not the same for students.

“My kids have not been in-person in school since March 12. And it’s about more than just education. When you think back to your own high school experience, it was also about being at the locker area between classes, the after-school activities or just lunch, the times when you’re just hanging out. That’s all being missed by our students right now. It’s really sad for them.

“And it has been so striking to me about how many of the advances women have made in the workplace are being undermined as they try to cope with trying to work and trying to home-school children. I can tell you from my own experience, it’s not easy. It’s certainly not going well in the Sherrill household. I have four school-aged children (third through ninth grade). So, this would be the priority.”

Sampath Sowmyanarayan, president of global enterprise, Verizon Business: “I think letting people have access to the best technology in the right place and in an environment that is tax-favorable to them is key. I think, if you see where you’re seeing a lot of industries growing, it is in places that have that: When you have the best talent, the best technology, in a tax-favorable environment — it grows. That doesn’t change. And I would like more and more for Jersey to be in that bucket. My background is in product engineering and product development. New Jersey doesn’t roll out of their mouth very easily when I talk to entrepreneurs. We have some of the best talent in the space proximity to other places, but it doesn’t roll off easily. That has to change. You want Jersey to roll off their tongues much easier when they want to set things up.”

Diane Wasser, partner-in-charge for New Jersey, EisnerAmper: “I would look at it like an accountant. We’re one of the least business-friendly states. We’ve got these tremendously high tax rates, high property taxes — and, now, you can’t deduct them. I would ask for accountability to find out where all the money’s going.”

Josh Weinreich, CEO, New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund: “I think if I could help people to understand the linkages between how critical businesses are to making state’s work, making people able to live productive lives, and safe and healthy lives. And by better attunement to what the connections are, I feel like we’d get better cooperation. If I had a magic wand, it would be that.”