CALDWELL, NJ - Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33) spoke this week to an assembled group of area businessmen and women at the Essex County Legislative Chapter government affairs luncheon at Calandra’s Italian Village.

Mukherji is perhaps most notable for selling his Internet consulting and software development company at the age of 17 to enter the United States Marine Corps Reserve after the September 11 terrorist attacks. While serving in the Reserves, he obtained an advanced degree at the University of Pennsylvania and a Juris Doctor from Seton Hall University. In addition, he co-founded a public affairs firm, although his interest in politics began earlier.

“When I was running my [software] company, many of our clients were political campaigns,” Mukherji told TAP into West Essex in an interview after the ELC luncheon.

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“A lot of my time was spent at fundraisers and campaign events, talking and debating with policymakers. That’s what started my interest in government.”

Mukherji also served a stint as deputy mayor of Jersey City. Now an assemblyman, he serves on the Assembly Budget Committee, the Labor Committee and the Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

The Assemblyman shared his thoughts on small business development in New Jersey, regulations and balancing idealism with pragmatism.

On how his values inform his policy:

“I definitely consider myself a bleeding heart liberal. Because of economic struggles my family faced, I like to champion working class families. At the same time, you have to consider the needs of businesses. We are in a very austere economic climate - both large and small businesses are struggling. Look at the gaming industry in Atlantic City. These are the things you have to consider when shaping policy.”

On New Jersey’s attractiveness to businesses:

“New Jersey has a lot of built-in assets: proximity to major metropolitan areas like New York and Philadelphia, a highly educated work force, a good transportation structure and fine institutions of higher learning.”

“A lot of businesses view these assets and want to establish themselves here. New Jersey is very strong in a lot of areas, but businesses come in spite of our middle-of-the pack regulatory policies and tax laws. For example, the New Jersey estate tax has one of the lowest thresholds in the country. I’ve heard of family-owned businesses having to sell off assets to pay the tax. It is very expensive to die in New Jersey.”

On working with people with conflicting ideologies:

“You have to balance opposing views in pretty much every aspect of legislation. That’s part of the point of government, bring together people with different perspectives. You have to be respectful of conflicting viewpoints. You can’t be a jerk or be too stubborn.”

On legislation:

“Compromise is an important thing in government. Too often, ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good.’ It’s also extremely important to be attentive to details. Sometimes, well-intentioned legislation can have harmful or deleterious effects.”

On paid sick leave:

“Over 1.1 million New Jerseyans a year don’t get paid when they miss work because of illness - sometimes they risk their jobs. I think the effort to protect workers is very laudable.”

“At the same time, it is a great added cost to small businesses, especially in a tough economic climate. Cities and towns throughout the state are already pushing through local ordinances. It becomes difficult for businesses with multiple locations throughout the state to comply with the differing regulations. In business, you want predictability and clarity. I think it would be a good thing to have one uniform law for the entire state and eliminate conflicting ordinances and patchwork laws.”