Yesterday, the Associated Press ran a "Think Piece" on the baleful influence of developers on the morals of New Jersey politicians. Something of the sort is to be expected considering the cattle drive proportions of the recent roundup of corrupt NJ Pols by the Federal Attorney's Office. But blaming the developers for corrupting local pol's is like blaming the sailors for prostitution.
New Jersey has an infamous maze of land use law and regulation. Even twenty years ago, about a quarter of the price of every new home went to satisfy the government's boundless appetite for interference. I confess I was once a functionary in this idiotic system. Sitting on the Princeton Township Site Plan Review Board I spent one night a month sitting with other local political busybodies, reviewing and "suggesting" improvements to proposed developments or alterations. This nitpicking over minutia was just one of multiple steps people had to take to do something, anything, with their own land in the people's republic of Princeton. I tried to move things along but it became clear that the power to halt whatever others might do was the principle reason why my fellow board members were there.
For example, a Princeton University eating club presented plans to modify their entrance ways. Part of the plan was to make the building more handicapped accessible. My fellow commissars found the ramps esthetically unappealing, suggesting various stepped ramp configurations. Soon the elegant architectural plan took on the form of a zigurat, or perhaps a Mayan temple. Finally I couldn't bear it any longer and ruined everyone's fun by mentioning that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to private clubs. So the eating club's ramp was there out of the goodness of their hearts and for the convenience of their members. In fact they could just as easily have told us to get stuffed. It was a small victory for sanity.
Every municipality in New Jersey has the power to hold every building plan to ransom for as long as they wish. In such an environment, is it any wonder that developers bribe the local yokels? In fact in the form of developer contributions to infrastructure and other public goods, sticking up private businesses looking to relocate is actually legally recognized.
And who is the author of this mess? In large part it is the State government itself. The State Supreme Court has stated that the state itself "Controls all land use." This is a measure of how far New Jersey has strayed from American constitutional principle. The state proceeds as though private property exists only on sufferance. In such a climate, it was only a matter of time before a parasitic relationship grew up between the thousands of petty local officials and the large developers, engineering firms, and land use lawyers who fund their campaigns, hire their relatives and and feed them bribes. The state has stood by while this racket grew. By allowing this burdensome and deeply dysfunctional regime of local interference with private property rights, the state made corruption inevitable.