Utah governor tells Californians to ‘stay in California instead of coming as refugees’

At left, Spencer Cox and, right, Phil Murphy speak to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington
National Governors Assn. Vice Chair Gov. Spencer Cox, of Utah, left, and Chair Gov. Phil Murphy of N.J. speak to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington this month.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
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If you’re from California and thinking of moving to Utah, think again. You may not be welcomed in the Beehive State.

Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah said Friday that Californians should “stay in California,” in part because his state is beset by problems including housing and water shortages.

Cox, a Republican, delivered his remarks in front of the White House last week alongside Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, as the pair were in Washington for the National Governors Assn. annual winter meeting.


Murphy and Cox, who lead the NGA, spoke to reporters about their meeting with President Biden, where they discussed border security, immigration, water rights and the debt limit.

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In response to a question about population movement and what Utah is doing to bring in more residents, Cox said “it’s not working to attract more people.”

“This last census confirmed that Utah was the fastest-growing state over the past 10 years,” Cox said. “Our biggest problems are more growth-related. We would love for people to stay in California instead of coming as refugees to Utah.”

According to the U.S. census, Utah’s population grew from 2,763,885 people in 2010 to 3,271,616 in 2020, an increase of 18.3%, the highest in the nation.

A June 2021 report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah found that California accounts for the largest influx of people to Utah from across the country. In 2018, 18,000 people arrived in Utah from California, compared with the more than 50,000 Californians who headed to other states in the union, such as Arizona or Washington.

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The study also found that Utah’s largest share of outbound domestic transplants went to California.


But Cox said the state “has grown so quickly” while it’s simultaneously confronting ongoing water and housing supply dilemmas.

A majority of the state’s residents are affected by the West’s historic drought, and all of the state’s 29 counties have disaster designations by the United States Department of Agriculture, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And while Utah experienced a record home-building year in 2021, it still is short about 31,000 units, according to recent estimates. In October, Dejan Eskic, a senior research fellow at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, estimated that the median monthly payment for a home in Utah was as high as $2,600, pricing out about three-fourths of the state’s residents.