NEWTON – On the drive north to this historic Sussex County town, one sees an enormous sign alongside Route 206 for Josh Gottheimer.
The congressman’s name is in huge letters and the punchline is “Jersey Values, Lower Taxes.”
Sussex is Republican terrain, so large sign or not, Gottheimer is unlikely to win the Sussex part of CD-5.
But on this day, Gottheimer sought to put the nuts and bolts of campaign politics aside for a bit.
He convened a press conference just off the Newton Green to announce a $500,000 federal grant to Sussex County to buy five, new buses to benefit seniors, the disabled and veterans. The new buses will either supplement or replace the county’s current 25-vehicle fleet, which is said to be aging.
As one of the more rural regions in New Jersey, public transportation in Sussex is severely lacking. So for many, the bus program run by the county is the “only game in town.”
Gottheimer noted that more, dependable buses means more trips for seniors and vets to local stores and medical appointments.
“These are not Democratic or Republican issues – they are good for America issues,” he said.
All House members enjoy “bringing home the bacon.”
Gottheimer, however, wants people to know that he considers it more than that.
He likes to use the term “clawing money back” from the “moocher states.”
The central argument here is not new.
For years, New Jersey residents have sent more tax money to the feds than the state gets back in aid. There are many states – the moocher states to Gottheimer – that get more money back from Washington than their residents pay in taxes.
This is more complicated than it seems. One reason for the imbalance is that income levels in New Jersey are among the highest in the nation, so it is logical that state residents pay more per capita in taxes. And as a wealthy state, New Jersey on average does not get as much federal aid as a poorer state would.
Nonetheless, Gottheimer says New Jersey deserves to get more federal money.
“We’re now up 357 percent since I came to office in the federal tax dollars that we’ve clawed back to Northern Jersey – including $750 per family last year alone,” he said. Gottheimer’s current 5th District also includes parts of Warren, Passaic and Bergen counties. He was first elected in 2016.
In addition to the $500,000 grant, Gottheimer talked about more than $36 million that Sussex County received from the American Rescue Plan. About $27 million went to the county government and the rest to towns and non-profits.
Gottheimer’s comments about bipartisanship notwithstanding, Sussex County is solidly Republican. Ron Tappan, who just became county administrator, attended the event, but none of the five county commissioners did.
Anthony Fasano, the commission director, as of yet hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the award for buses.