Former state senator Joe Coniglio of Paramus was convicted last week for influence peddling, among other crimes. Specifically, Mr. Coniglio was found guilty of using his office to obtain a $5,000 month "consulting" contract from Hackensack University Medical Center, and in return the former senator funneled state grants to the hospital.
If Joe Coniglio is guilty of influence peddling, then virtually every state legislator is guilty of the same "offense." Routinely, businesses and nonprofits as well as county and municipal governments receive state grants because "their guy or gal" has clout in the state legislature. That's the nature of our "democracy" in Trenton. Bringing home the bacon-taxpayers' money-to the well connected. In other words, Joe Coniglio was crucified by the justice system for the sins of the politically powerful who have been directing taxpayer funds to their favored constituents and campaign contributors for decades.
There is only one way to end the "pay to play" shenanigans in Trenton–permanently. The annual state budget should be reduced to a few billion dollars over the next decade. The state should only spend taxpayers' money on just a few "general welfare" items-state police, courts, roads, highways and bridges, etc.
The income tax should be repealed, the sales tax cut in half, business taxes should be slashed so the people-remember them?-would decide if Hackensack University Medical Center or any other hospital deserves their support. In other words, let HUMC and other nonprofits "compete" for the public's support, as the late management guru Peter Drucker advocated nearly 20 years ago.
New Jersey's political culture is symptomatic of the "legal plunder" the French economist, lawyer and legislator, Frederic Bastiat, identified more than 150 years ago in his classic, The Law.
Bastiat argued that in a just society legal plunder must be abolished. Bastiat identified legal plunder with one of the most often quoted arguments against government redistribution of income:
See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law – which may be an isolated case – is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.
New Jersey has such a system-pay to play-in all its permutations and combinations just as Bastiat warned about in the mid 19th century. Until the people of New Jersey demand the end of legal plunder there will be more crucifixions of politically inept players like Joe Coniglio, while Trenton continue to practice the fine art of legal plunder.