Corzine, Forrester against eminent domain abuses: Trenton (NJ) Times, 7/15/05

By Tom Hester

The U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling allowing local government to seize people's homes for private development wriggled its way into the gubernatorial campaign yesterday, with both major candidates announcing plans to combat it.

Republican Doug Forrester named a task force to study the decision and recommend how New Jersey can change its laws to protect homeowners.

"We're dealing here with fundamental rights," Forrester said.

Democrat Jon Corzine didn't wait for a task force report. Less than two hours after Forrester unveiled his plan at the State House, Corzine released a statement proposing seven changes to state law he said would protect homeowners from eminent domain abuse.

"There should be no taking of homes for economic development except in rare and exceptional circumstances and then only with adequate safeguards to ensure that the process is fair and transparent," Corzine said.

The Supreme Court decision allowed states to set their own rules on eminent domain.

Forrester said the task force would report to him on what changes the state could make to protect citizens.

He said the ruling is particularly troubling for New Jersey, where he said corruption and political influence could play roles in eminent domain proceedings. He called this a "sinister element" and cited Petty's Island, a South Jersey Delaware River island, as an example.

Environmentalists want the island preserved, but officials, including influential Democrats, support seizing the property for redevelopment.

Forrester said the task force would be headed by Candace Straight, a Republican insider who once ran for Essex County executive and was a co-chairwoman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee. Forrester said her broad public service experience qualifies her to lead the task force, which will include several Republican legislators.

Corzine proposed changing state law to limit government's ability to taking homes for economic development, requiring municipalities to explore alternatives to eminent domain, delaying condemnation until a trial and appeals are completed and eliminating no-bid developer contracts and awarding contracts to campaign donors.

He also proposed requiring homeowners who lose their homes receive compensation beyond fair market value, require redevelopment housing plans to include affordable housing for families and senior citizens and commercial plans to include such housing and giving the state public advocate authority to monitor eminent domain.

Trenton Times: www.nj.com