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Since I live in New Jersey, I have been subject to an unending barrage of news items relating the tragic stories of people whose lives are being destroyed because they have no state government to take or spend their money. Drivers can't get their cars inspected, parents can't take their children to see the Statue of Liberty, and most important, high rollers and compulsive gamblers can't throw their money away at the casinos which, in turn, give a hefty cut of the proceeds to the politicians and bureaucrats who regulate them. Then there are furloughed state workers, wearing specially made T-shirts with catchy slogans and their union logo, screaming and jumping in front of TV cameras about losing their homes and starving to death if they can't go to work. I thought it curious that these folks could afford to make T-shirts but don't have money to buy food, and judging from the way some of them looked, it might not be so bad for their health if they didn't eat for a few days. This story is a classic case of a state cannibalizing itself, and the reason it is happening now is because a Wall Street corporate socialist was elected governor and is trying to restore honor among thieves.
Taxation by any other name is still legalized theft. For decades New Jersey politicians in both parties have been stealing people's money, but they are constrained by a constitutional mandate to operate within a balanced budget. In recent years they've resorted to a variety of gimmicks and tricks to steal money without the people knowing about it. For example, they might double car registration fees and use the excess revenue to offset operating deficits in other government departments. Another method is to raise taxes on businesses, which then pass along these added costs to consumers without the latter knowing the reason why. The favorite method of Republicans is to remove certain items, such as state pension funds, from the general budget and then issue bonds to pay for them, which is stealing from future generations of taxpayers who will have to pay for them when they come due.
As a former CEO of a prominent Wall Street investment firm, recently elected Governor Jon Corzine was thoroughly familiar with the various methods of stealing utilized by politicians to fleece the public. At the same time they feather their own nests with inflated salaries, perquisites, kickbacks, bribes, expense accounts and other financial rewards to be derived from holding public office. New Jersey is especially notorious for being the only state to allow "double-dipping" or dual office-holding. This means someone like Jim McGreevey, before he became governor five years ago, could draw a full-time salary as a state senator and a full-time salary as mayor of a large city. The opportunities for ripping off the people are virtually limitless. Therefore, when Jon Corzine spent $100 million of his own money to become senator and then governor, he didn't do it so that he might take orders from political hacks and party bosses whose only interest in life is doing whatever it takes to get reelected.
It takes a thief to catch a thief, and in the case of Jon Corzine, you have an honest thief telling dishonest thieves that if they are going to steal from the people, they should be straight up about it so that the voters know who is ripping them off. An honest thief is someone like the kid who came up to me face to face on a street a few years ago and demanded money. When I didn't give it to him, he pulled a gun so I gave him my wallet and then he ran away. A dishonest thief is my college roommate. For several weeks I noticed that every time I opened my wallet there seemed to be a few dollars less than I thought there was. Then one morning, when I was still asleep, I heard my roommate moving around and when I opened my eyes he was going through my pants. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he was looking for cigarettes, even though he knew I didn't smoke. He then left the room and I decided not to confront him about it. However, from that time on I kept my wallet in a safe place. I wouldn't be surprised if he went into politics.
In an effort to restore honor among thieves, Jon Corzine proposed increasing the sales tax, which is the most visible tax almost everybody pays up front, in order to satisfy the constitutional mandate for a balanced budget. Members of the State Assembly, most of whom are Democrats, relived nightmares of 15 years ago when the last honest thief New Jersey had for a governor, Jim Florio, raised not only the sales tax but the income tax as well. The result was a political bloodbath which saw Republicans gain control of the Assembly for the next decade. When Democrats got back in power five years ago, they copied the Republican playbook and adopted the same budgetary gimmicks and hidden tax increases to pay for their spending. Whatever Corzine's motives for spending $100 million of his own money to become governor, it became clear within the first few months of his administration that he was going to be straightforward with the taxpayers of New Jersey about stealing their money.
The most interesting aspect of the state government shutdown was Assembly members from Corzine's own party leading the opposition to the proposed sales tax increase. Driven by fear of a repeat of 15 years ago, Assembly Democrats proposed the same tricks and hidden taxes that they and their Republican counterparts had been using for years to fleece the taxpayers without them knowing. Corzine rejected these proposals because, as a former Wall Street CEO, he knew that New Jersey's credit rating was falling faster than Bill Clinton's pants at a Christmas party for White House interns, and sooner or later taxpayers would be stuck with even bigger bills and less revenue with which to pay them.
One of the main characters in the movie "Doctor Zhivago" uttered the line, "I don't agree with Bolsheviks but I can still admire them as men." I feel the same way about Jon Corzine. He might have to make some small accommodations to his fellow Democrats in the Assembly, but the taxpayers of New Jersey will know who is stealing from them and why, and if they agree or disagree they can register their opinion on election day (for all the good that might do). As an honest thief, Corzine reminds me of the street kid who looked me in the face, pointed a gun, and took my wallet. The Assembly Democrats (and Republicans) are like my college roommate--picking the taxpayer's pockets when they are, figuratively, asleep.