February 25, 2018

Gottheimer wants to keep focused on working instead of politics

NEWTON — Like any other incumbent running for re-election, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., is wearing two hats at the same time: elected official and campaign candidate. But the freshman congressman said the best way to approach one of those roles was by focusing on the other.

“The best thing I can do is keep governing,” Gottheimer said during a sit-down with members of the New Jersey Herald editorial board on Thursday. “People want to see us do our job. Politics will come when politics come, but I (have) to do my job.”

Gottheimer does not have a primary opponent for the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, two candidates — former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and former Cresskill committeeman John McCann — are vying for their party’s nomination. Gottheimer said that while his potential opponents are spending time and effort on one another — and occasionally on him — he is content on working for the 5th Congressional District.

“People want to see their government working and functioning,” he said. “I think the best approach is to keep doing what I’m doing.”

For the last couple of months, Gottheimer has had his sights set on working toward a solution for New Jersey residents who may be adversely impacted by a provision in the recently adopted federal tax reform that limits the state and local tax deduction. He said that the $10,000 capped deduction was a “significant hit in the gut” for many New Jersey residents and he worries that property values and economic growth will begin to suffer.

With 11 of New Jersey’s 12 House representatives voting against the tax reform for similar reasons, Gottheimer has been working across the partisan aisle with U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, R-7th Dist., on solutions for New Jersey. The two House members introduced bipartisan legislation to restore the SALT deduction, but it was to no avail.

The most recent New Jersey-centric idea Gottheimer has championed already has support from Gov. Phil Murphy, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd Dist., and state Senate Budget and Appropriations Chair Paul Sarlo, D-36th Dist. The goal is to have the state pass legislation that allows municipalities to give tax credits — something they currently do not have the authority to do — for charitable donations directly to the municipality, thereby preserving the value of the itemized deductions people in New Jersey just lost.

The day after Gottheimer met with the Herald, he stood with Sweeney and Sarlo in Paramus (Bergen County) to announce the bill would be on the Senate floor for a vote on Monday.

“In New Jersey, our taxes are too high,” Gottheimer said on Friday during the press conference with the state legislators. “The rates need to be lowered for families and businesses alike. But the tax hike bill just jacked up our federal taxes. The elimination of SALT is like a seven percentage point increase on many of the taxpayers in my district. That kind of tax hike doesn’t just hit our wallets. It’s enough that businesses and individuals are less likely to come to New Jersey and more likely to move away.”

Gottheimer said finding solutions to problems people in New Jersey are facing is his singular objective. Because of that, he occasionally butts heads with national Democrats, something he said he’s aware of but unconcerned with.

“I found that it’s not always easy being somebody who tries to work with both sides and solve problems,” he said. “It’s not easy because the extremes (on both sides) are so loud and it’s against their interest to get things done. … I really feel strongly about (the fact) that I don’t work for a national political party. I work for us and that’s the job. That means it’s going to upset both sides at some point. That’s how I ran and that’s how I’m governing.”

As co-chair of the House Problem Solvers Caucus — a bipartisan coalition made up of 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans — Gottheimer said one of the things he’s learned during his first 13 months in office is that there’s often more agreement on issues than not, but the small percentage of differences keeps things from being accomplished. The Problem Solvers Caucus usually meets once a week while members are in Washington and the objective, he said, was to “find that 80 percent where we agree” instead of debating the “20 percent” where the two parties differ.

“I’m very focused on what we can actually get done,” he said. “It’s so much easier to say where you disagree. It’s much, much harder to say where the solution point is. It means you have to be less ideological.”

In the coming week, Gottheimer said he expects the caucus will be discussing solutions toward reducing gun violence, an issue in the forefront of national discourse given the recent school shooting in Florida.

“I don’t understand why, in the greatest country in the world — we figured everything out — why can’t we figure this out?” Gottheimer said. “Because other countries don’t have the challenge we have. I really believe it’s time to put our heads together. It’s enough.”

But, Gottheimer was quick to point out that whatever the solutions may be, they can’t be dictated by a single source if they are to be effective and accepted.

“I don’t think we should all be sitting here again six months from now and everyone retreats to their corner and nothing happens and another school shooting happens and more kids die,” he said. “If it’s one-sided, we’ll be where we always are.”

Gottheimer also said he brings that same solutions-oriented mindset to challenges facing local officials and residents who reach out for assistance. One of his office’s big agenda items is return on investment in respect to making sure municipalities are receiving federal dollars they are entitled to. His office actually has a dedicated staffer who researches available federal grants and assists mayors, council/committee members and public safety officials in securing them. He said working toward a local return on investment stems from a simple philosophy: “I work for you. I’m here to help. How can I be helpful?”

Gottheimer said his office has a clear directive that they are never to tell someone seeking help that “it’s not my job,” no matter the size of the issue.

“Whether you’re worrying about clean drinking water, a veteran, a senior…you want to make sure you don’t drop the ball and get it done for them,” he said. “But I also do potholes.”