Paying for Property — The Wall Street Journal, 11/9/04

Editorial Opinion

Property rights may not draw as many headlines as gay marriage, yet we'd like to draw readers' attention to an important initiative that Oregonians approved last week. The measure is proof that voters can make sensible decisions on even emotional environmental issues. It's also a precedent for land owners that could spread to other states,

Measure 37 dealt with the growing abuse of "regulatory takings." These have become a big favorite with environmentalists, who see them as a backdoor way of stopping development even on private land. In Oregon, for instance, regulations have forbidden property owners from cutting down their own trees or building on their own lots. The state government isn't obliged to pay a dime for these new, privately owned state parks.

Measure 37, which passed Tuesday with 60% of the vote, doesn't forbid authorities from regulating land use. But it does excuse owners from rules enacted after they bought their land or compensate them for complying. The immediate effect will be to stop the most frivolous land-use regulations, since state and local governments can't afford the millions of dollars it'd take to pay for all the land they "take" in this fashion.

This is the second time Oregonians have passed the measure, the first version having been tossed out by the liberal Oregon Supreme Court on a technicality. In the intervening four years, greens have opposed any new measure as an environmental calamity. Yet hundreds of thousands of rural and suburban folk, some with dreams of new homes, others with ambitions to start businesses or expand farms, recognized this for the hyperbole it was. Owning property is, after all, a basic Constitutional right -- as Oregon voters just reminded the nation.

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