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Politicians have little incentive to change

David Finkelstein Guest Column

David Finkelstein
Guest Column

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every bachelor of arts, that all sin is divided into two parts. One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important, and it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant, and the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from Billy Sunday to Buddah, and it consists of not having done something you shudda – Ogden Nash

New Jersey, at the state, county and local levels, is blessed with two kinds of politicians. One kind are those who commit sins by blatantly taking advantage of the legalized pay to play graft laws written into all levels of government. It is acknowledged that contracts for service, products and construction are padded by as much as 25 percent over market value to finance the private, political club, patronage system of New Jersey. This is a great deal more expensive than publicly financed elections.

The other kind of politicians are those who do not actively steal or accept bribes, but know those who do and how they get away with it, choosing to stay silent rather than make a total commitment to integrity. Calling for ethics reform while knowingly allowing criminals to rule is the greater sin.

Expecting our elected officials to police themselves is naive. They are addicts, hooked on power, whose habit is serviced by club bosses who deal trance-inducing cash and perks that keeps even the most independent minded person unwilling to attempt withdrawal. We listen to eloquent speeches given by defenders of the community assuring us that “This time we will get it right” and “Now we are serious.”

Sleeves are rolled up, not for hard work, but to insert the intravenous doses of double dipping, wheeling, pension padding, over-billing, no-show effort that has made New Jersey the most expensive, least desirable state in the union.

Once again, our elected officials are strutting around the state, peacock proud, bragging about this year’s slight of hand legislation. They passed property tax ceilings that are higher than the actual rate of increase; enacted spending limits with enough loopholes to ensure that no one need comply; adopted ethics reforms that – surprise – exempts the lifers; would sell our roads to private enterprise giving us no control over costs and quality and created a controller without the ability to investigate.

They were so exhausted from this effort that we were told it would be too hard to pass pay-to-play laws right now. Maybe later.

It seems to me that if pay-to-play is banned, then the cost of government at all levels should automatically be reduced by as much as 25 percent. That alone would solve much of the debt crisis, provided that vendors do not continue to inflate their bids and pocket the excess or donate the same money to the same retainers in less-visible ways. If all the ethics laws were put to work, New Jersey would most likely have a surplus. It is clear that while all politicians publicly agree on the proper conclusions, their will to take us there is only lip service.

New Jersey needs an intervention program, an old-fashioned “rent strike.”

I challenge the statewide New Coalition for the Public Good, a collection of civic organizations, including Common Cause, Citizens for Property Tax Reform, Empower the People, New Jersey Future, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Reform School Taxes, Regional Planning Partner-ship, Tax Policy Center and others, to find ways to put their detailed reports into action.

Let the public take financial control of New Jersey away from our governing aristocracy. If the Legisla-ture is too nervous to call for an effective constitutional convention, possibly the civic groups can. My letters to the editor are written because frustrated citizens have no other outlets to vent.

The voting booth is not the answer because the politicians in both major parties come up through the buddy system and have loyalty debts to pay in order to keep their positions. Gov. Jon Corzine is already wilting under the pressure. In New Jersey, indictments and jail time are nonpartisan. The civic organizations write informative editorials, but also have the money, credibility, research staff and professionals to provide the oversight necessary to ensure that our tax dollars go where they are supposed to, in the correct amounts.

Put our tax payments into an escrow account, managed by the collective group of objective organizations to be held until Trenton fulfills its basic responsibilities. We are lying to ourselves if we expect the beneficiaries of the unlimited personal funding we provide to reduce their lifestyles on our account.

Jackie Mason had a good idea about the federal Congress. He said, “If we want them to be successful, put them on commission and don’t pay them until they show a profit.” That works for me in New Jersey.

David Finkelstein is a resident of Manalapan