Saturday, October 07, 2006

End eminent domain abuse

One of the proposal on the ballot in November would restrict the situations in which government can use eminent domain.

Eminent domain is the principle under which the government can buy land that the owner does not want to sell. This has traditionally been reserved for government projects like roads and airports. But some governments have taken land to give it to private developers or politically connected corporations. The theoretical justification for this is that the new owners will pay more taxes, thus enriching the government, a "public benefit."

In 1981, more than a thousand homeowners in a traditionally Polish neighborhood were forcibly displaced to make way for a new factory in Hamtramck, Michigan. In what became known as the Poletown case, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that there was nothing wrong with this. In 2004, the now conservative court overruled the Poletown case.

In 2005, this issue exploded in the public mind with the Supreme Court case Kelo v. Hew London. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that there was nothing wrong with this practice. This sparked a movement to abolish this practice. Michigan is currently only protected by a court ruling. Thus the legislature moved to amend the state Constitution to stop eminent domain abuse. The amendment passed both houses with more than two thirds of the vote, and must now be approved by a popular vote. Proposal 4 would end eminent domain abuse and require government to pay 125% of the value of property to prevent theft by underassessment.

Eminent domain is a huge violation of private property rights. Most basically, it is wrong to take land unless absolutely necessary. It is also a huge avenue for corruption, as corporations can contribute to politicians to get them to take land that they can't buy. It also assumes that government can better decide how best to use property than the people who own it. This is the basic assumption of socialism.

Phyllis Schlafly provides information on the nationwide movement to protect property rights, and argues that taking land to increase tax revenue is unconstitutional.

Thomas Sowell calls eminent domain abuse "socialism for the rich," as wealthy developers can take property at below-market rates.

Proposal 4 must be passed.

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