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Gottheimer discusses issues from his first 100 days in Congress
"I don't vote party line. I know my party gets frustrated with me about this, but because I consider myself independent this way, I actually like to look at how this might affect us here. That might mean not pulling the lever the way everybody on my side wants me to pull the lever."NJ Herald: Gottheimer discusses issues from his first 100 days in Congress
NEWTON -- U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., was busy on Wednesday. In the morning, he hosted a roundtable discussion on grant funding in Allamuchy. A few hours later, he spoke on the Newton Green at a rally for victims of sexual or child abuse.
The freshman congressman also made time for the editorial board of the New Jersey Herald to recap his first 100 days in office -- April 19 was 106 days in office for Gottheimer -- and to explain his priorities going forward.
Gottheimer announced last week that he would be introducing legislation to rectify the disparity of federal tax dollars that come from certain states and wind up in others. He calls the legislation his "Anti-Moocher Bill."
The goal of the legislation, according to Gottheimer, is to make sure that states, such as New Jersey, are not getting the "short end" of the deal in federal funding distribution. New Jersey, on average, only gets 68 cents for every dollar in taxes it sends to Washington, while the 5th Congressional District only sees 33 cents back for every dollar.
Gottheimer contends that if New Jersey is not getting those federal funds backs -- which can be used to pay for any number of things, such as fire trucks, infrastructure upgrades, safety and security, or drug abuse resources and education -- then counties and municipalities have to increase their taxes to make up the difference.
"If anything, my feeling is that what's important is that we shine a light on the problem here," Gottheimer said. "And the problem is you've got an unequal situation where people are paying more and you've got states that are benefitting more, from what we pay here, and my job is to represent us. And frankly, New Jersey, given how expensive it is to live here, asking us I think in many ways is a double- taxation."
Along that same train of thought is Gottheimer's focus on return on investment, or ROI. His roundtable discussion on Wednesday morning was meant to educate local officials on ways to seek, apply and qualify for federal or state grants that could help alleviate the property tax burden in New Jersey by helping those municipalities with high-cost items.
Gottheimer's office has even appointed an ROI director -- he says it's the first such position -- to assist municipalities in the district with procuring those funds. Because many local elected officials are either unaware of available grants or unsure how to work the system, Gottheimer said he feels it's his responsibility to assist them in navigating through the process.
"My predecessor had a different perspective on these things, and so I think a lot of this is new that they have somebody showing up and saying ‘Hey, here are some opportunities,' " he said. "My big thing is if we get the dollars back, if you can save $800,000 on a fire truck, those are dollars that they don't have to bond for locally."
TAXES, TAXES, TAXES
Gottheimer said the "first five things" he hears from constituents, business owners and local officials is that taxes are out of control in New Jersey and he agrees.
"I really believe if we're going to do our part to make sure that we keep people here, keep raising their families here (we have to) make it affordable for them and also for businesses to be able to operate here. ... It's expensive and we have to address this," he said.
When the 115th U.S. Congress returns to Washington on Monday after a two-week recess, one of its first orders of business will be to fund the government following the continuing resolution, CR, that was approved in December 2016. The CR only funds the federal government through April 28.
Gottheimer hopes those discussions do not get bogged down on pet project funding or individual agendas.
"We're focused, right now, on the CR and talking about how we can bring a more moderate, reasonable CR to the table that doesn't hang a bunch of ideological ornaments on it," he said. "This is not the place for (those) arguments. So, let's keep the lights on because it costs a fortune when government shuts down."
Gottheimer, who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, is hopeful that tax reform is one area where Democrats and Republicans can work together for the American people since both parties see taxes as a prevailing issue.
He believes the corporate tax rate should be lowered and tax shelters and loopholes should be closed. Gottheimer believes this could help bring businesses back to the United States from overseas.
"We can't be afraid, in government, to re-evaluate what we do," Gottheimer said. "Nothing's perfect. Our job is to work to make it better."
There are, however, areas where Gottheimer already knows he is at odds with the tax reform blueprint plan championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
"We can't eliminate state tax deduction," Gottheimer said in discussing one part of Ryan's plan. "That would be a death knell to us. It would be a great boon for Florida, where they don't have state income tax, and kill a state like ours. So, I'll fight that."
Gottheimer also said he would be opposed to a border tax adjustment and the elimination of the mortgage interest rate deduction, both of which are included in Ryan's plan.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORTATION
When Gottheimer met with local mayors and officials in Franklin a few weeks back, he said he walked away with a clear message about the Lackawanna Cutoff.
"What I heard from all those mayors was pretty clear. This is why this isn't a partisan issue," he said. "They all told me, ‘We need this. This is vital to us.'?"
Gottheimer is also in support of the Gateway Tunnel project that would improve rail service between New Jersey and New York.
"We have to think about how we invest in infrastructure," he said. "We're not investing long term in our infrastructure."
Gottheimer said he supported President Donald Trump's response to the situation in Syria.
"I thought (Trump) took the appropriate steps," Gottheimer said. "There's room the president has to deal with a crisis, and I believed, if you looked at the heinous crimes and atrocities committed, poisoning your own children, that demanded a response, and I'm glad he responded."
Gottheimer added that any long-term strategy in the region needed to be run by Congress.
TRUMP AND RUSSIA
Gottheimer said he has called for an independent commission to investigate alleged ties between Trump and Russia.
"You have to actually look and study what happened here and understand Russia's meddling in our elections, at any level," he said. "However this happened, we need to understand the facts. You can't just sweep this under the rug. It's got to be dealt with. ... The American people deserve to know. They need to know when you're making a decision what's behind the decision. Are there any conflicts?"
Gottheimer prides himself on not being "ideologically rigid," as evident by his work with the Problem Solvers Caucus. But, Gottheimer said he thinks the perception of the public that Democrats and Republicans don't want to work together may be exaggerated a bit outside the Beltway.
"I think there's a bit of perception that no one talks to each other," he said of congressional members and their relationships. "I think people are eager to work together, but the structure doesn't encourage it. The system doesn't encourage it."
To combat that entrenched partisan system, Gottheimer said he makes it a point to reach across the aisle whenever possible.
"I make a personal point of, every time I go on the (House) floor, of walking to the other side and talking to somebody on the other side. That's my thing," he said. "I make sure that I go do it because I think it's really important to develop relationships so you can work together."