Eminent domain abuse is a threat: Ft Wayne (IN) Journal-Gazette, 2/20/06

By Jason Shelley

Americans have long understood the concept of eminent domain. Without it, we would not have a national interstate highway system, effective electrical energy grids and similar public benefits.

While the concept of eminent domain, rooted in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, is not a new one, the way in which it is being used in towns and cities across the country is alarming many small-business owners and homeowners.

Increasingly, local governments are using eminent domain powers to seize property from independent owners, only to turn it over to private developers in order to construct manufacturing plants, shopping malls and condominium complexes – all in the name of promoting economic development and job growth.

Debate surrounding this disturbing trend reached a boiling point last June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Connecticut town that used eminent domain authority to seize homes in what had been a historic neighborhood in order to make way for a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. The case, known as Kelo v. City of New London, sent shockwaves around the country and has resonated here in Indiana.

The Indiana legislature is currently considering House Bill 1010, sponsored by Rep. Dave Wolkins of Winona Lake, to specifically prohibit governments from taking private property for the sole purpose of increasing the local tax base. The National Federation of Independent Business/Indiana strongly supports this legislation as a means of protecting small businesses from government and big-business intrusion.

As a matter of fact, the 2006 NFIB/Indiana State Ballot confirms that 87 percent of respondents support efforts to restrict the government’s power to seize private property for economic development purposes.

Unfortunately, the Institute for Justice has documented more than 10,000 condemnations for private gain in the U.S. between 1998 and 2002 alone. Indiana has not been immune to these controversies, with disputes arising over specific properties in Mishawaka, Fort Wayne, Michigan City and Fall Creek, to name just a few.

These abuses place small businesses at a greater risk of being seized, since they cannot produce the volume of new jobs and property tax revenue that large corporations can promise. The bottom line is that we can’t stand quietly and watch as governments take the property of small- or medium-sized businesses in order to hand it over for large corporate development. NFIB/Indiana is working with lawmakers for the passage of HB 1010 because as long as private property is permitted to be seized simply because there is an (allegedly) better economic use for it, then no business or home is safe.

Ft Wayne Journal-Gazette: www.fortwayne.com