Speak out against eminent domain: Ft Wayne (IN) Journal Gazette, 8/8/05

By Kenn Gividen

On Wednesday, Hoosiers will have the opportunity to voice their views on eminent domain.

A hearing hosted by the House Summer Study Committee is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the auditorium of the Government Center South in Indianapolis. Plans for the hearing were prompted by a recent Supreme Court decision that determined local governments have the constitutional right to force you to sell your property to a private organization for non-public use.

There are several reasons why Hoosiers should voice their opinions on Wednesday.
  • Cronyism. While Indiana may be the heart of the Bible belt, it’s not exempt from political favoritism, dirty tricks and punitive maneuvering.

    Anyone who dares oppose city hall will risk the wrath of corrupt local bureaucrats willing to use eminent domain laws to exact revenge. Community activists who fall out of favor with government officials may find their homesteads bulldozed to make room for a Biggy Burger franchise, Holiday Inn or whatever is deemed to be “in the public interest.”

  • Reality. The prospect of property owners being bullied into selling to private developers is more than a future prospect. It’s already happening.

    There are six states – Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and North Dakota – that permit local governments to effectively confiscate private property for economic development. What’s more, the Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington allow private property in “blighted areas” to be condemned for private redevelopment.

    In recent months, local governments in Indiana have begun following suit.

    In Indianapolis eminent domain was threatened in hopes of bulldozing a 60-year-old business. The reason? The city-county council says it needs the space for a parking lot for the new Colts stadium.

    And when the Indianapolis city bureaucrats grew weary of negotiating with the owner of a parking garage, they simply condemned his property. The city plans to sell the land to a private developer.

    Another example can be found in Mishawaka. When a new car manufacturer wanted to expand its facility, county officials used the threat of eminent domain to force the owners of 51 homes to get out of the way. That was five years ago.

  • Ineptness. One needs look no further than a local license branch to discover that good intentions don’t make for good planning.

    Consider, also, that local governments in Indiana have a long history of overspending on “public” works projects. Even Gov. Mitch Daniels acknowledges that the spending binge for government school facilities is excessive. In Wayne County, taxpayers cringed when local officials spent nearly $29 million for a new jail project.

    When the Republican-controlled General Assembly granted counties the right to impose food and beverage taxes, many eagerly obliged. Local governments will also move ahead with enthusiasm if given the green light to abuse eminent domain.

  • Unfairness. The motive to abuse eminent domain is simple: It will increase revenue by reassigning real estate to those who will pay higher taxes. Low-income families are the logical targets.

    One example was seen in New London, Conn., where local residents were forced to sell their modest homes. According to the Institute for Justice, “The city handed over its power of eminent domain – the ability to take private property for public use – to the New London Development Corp., a private body, to take the entire neighborhood for private development.”

    One resident, Susette Kelo, sued the New London Development Corp. for the right to retain her home. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Kelo lost her case.

    In the wake of the Kelo v. New London, Conn., decision looms a threat to every property owner in Indiana. A local government can force a resident to sell his or her property to a private body. Unless, that is, Gov. Daniels and the Indiana state legislature take the necessary steps to prevent it.

    Or, as former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory.”

On Wednesday, your voice can help make the change.

Ft Wayne Journal Gazette: www.fortwayne.com/mld/journalgazette