Senator Hwang: Learn Here, Live Here Will Help Plug State’s ‘Brain Drain’

April 8, 2015

The 28th District state Senator is joined by college student Jake Cahill in support of the “Learn Here, Live Here” program.

From our vocational-technical high schools and community colleges on to state schools and private institutions in undergraduate and graduate studies, the quality of higher education in Connecticut is one of our state’s greatest assets. But what happens when those students graduate?

The unfortunate reality is that many of them leave our state, taking with them their talent, energy and a lifetime of social and economic contributions as productive members of society. It’s become such a well-documented problem that it even has a name: “brain drain.”

Senate Bill (SB) 163, The Learn Here, Live Here program, was designed to help solve this problem – by providing our educated population with an innovative financial incentive to stay in Connecticut. The program, which is currently under consideration in the General Assembly, allows graduates of public or independent institutions of higher education, health care training schools or technical high schools in Connecticut to direct a portion of their state income tax payments into a first-time homebuyers account for down payment on a home in this state. Under the program, an individual can set aside up to $2,500 tax free each year for up to 10 years.

State Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28), whose professional background includes experience as a Realtor, noted that saving enough money for a down payment is one of the greatest barriers to homeownership for many young people. It is especially significant when taking into account the cost of living in Connecticut, which ranks among the highest in the nation.

“This financial incentive to stay in Connecticut is exactly what our newly educated residents need, to compliment what we know are already compelling reasons to work and live here, such as the quality of life, excellent schools, and strong sense of community, among so many others,” Sen. Hwang said.

An example of SB 163’s appeal can be described by college students like Jake Cahill.

A Massachusetts resident, Cahill is a junior political science major at Trinity College in Hartford and an intern in Sen. Hwang’s office. As part of his internship experience, Cahill has been researching proposed legislation. And “Learn Here, Live Here” – caught his attention.

On Monday, April 6th, he joined Sen. Hwang in testifying in support of the bill during a public hearing of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

“Young, college age students are looking to have an impact on their local communities. What they are looking for are incentives to stay and to build something,” Cahill testified. “Trinity College is home to many innovative individuals looking to have that impact. However, ask most Trinity students about where they’re looking after college and they immediately say Boston or New York. Students here do not see that incentive to stay, “Learn Here, Live Here” would give them one.”

In his testimony, Cahill cited statistics showing that the so-called brain drain – college-age students leaving the state – is a trend dating back to at least the 1990’s.

“This bill is not a complete and total solution that will immediately stem the tide of this ‘brain drain’ but it is a strong first step towards solving this issue that has plagued this state for the better part of two decades,” Cahill writes.

Sen. Hwang noted that in his testimony, too. He emphasized the need for higher education institutions to better align course work and training with the needs of businesses in the state, particularly advanced manufacturing, bioscience and other growing industries, and for the state to encourage economic growth and job creation by enacting policy changes and legislation that is more business friendly.

“The incentive to lay down roots in Connecticut is meaningless if our college graduates can’t get a job here,” Sen. Hwang said.

The Learn Here, Live Here program is not a new concept. Sen. Hwang has been a leading proponent of the bill for the past seven years, dating back to his tenure as a state Representative. He acknowledged the bill comes at a cost, in terms of the lost tax revenue to the state, and that is something that he said must be weighed carefully, especially given the state’s current fiscal climate.

“While I recognize Learn Here, Live Here comes at an initial revenue cost to the state, I view this program as an investment in our educated population and the promise they hold for our state’s future economic and social vitality,” Sen. Hwang writes. “We’re talking about highly skilled and educated workers who will make our state more attractive to businesses – those here and ones that are considering relocation to Connecticut – and also enrich our neighborhoods and communities’ quality of life. Furthermore, any lost tax revenue will certainly be more than made up in the long term when those residents become taxpayers and contributing members of our communities.”