6/12/2006

Veto city-strangling eminent-domain bill: Des Moines (IA) Register, 5/30/06

Law would stall economic development

By Register Editorial Board

Gov. Tom Vilsack has made the economic transformation of Iowa a centerpiece of his eight years in office. That transformation would be halted, however, if he signs a bill passed by the Legislature this session prohibiting the use of eminent domain for economic development.

Vilsack should veto the bill if he wishes to preserve the gains he has made as governor and to give all Iowa communities a fighting chance for revival, or survival.

If this legislation becomes law, cities and towns in every part of Iowa would lose an important tool to attract new development and salvage declining neighborhoods and commercial districts. It would stop progress in cities such as Des Moines, which is witnessing a renaissance downtown, or Dubuque, where riverfront attractions have become a national destination. It would stymie progress in many communities where growth literally means survival.

Legislators who voted for the bill were obviously aware of those consequences, because they extended the effective date to give Clinton time to complete condemnation of land needed for an ADM corn-processing plant to make plastics. Burlington officials, however, are worried that the extension may not save a major residential and commercial redevelopment project that's been in the works for 20 years. The legislation without doubt would prevent such projects in other cities in the future.

That means Dyersville would lose a proposed ethanol plant and its $1.3 million investment in an industrial park for want of a 50-foot-wide sliver of land needed for a railroad spur and a water main. The owner rejected the city's generous financial package, far above market value. Condemnation is the last option, but without it, the project is dead.

And, it means that Pella could be blocked by a neighboring county in acquiring land needed to relocate its landlocked municipal airport. That has officials of window manufacturer Pella Corp. nervous about the company's future in Iowa as it looks to potential growth: The company relies heavily on corporate aircraft to manage operations in other states. Does Iowa want to keep and grow companies like Pella Corp. or repeat the Maytag experience?

Eminent domain is never the first option, but there are cases when private property must be taken in the interests of the entire community. Not a single credible example has been cited of this power being abused in Iowa, and that is because existing Iowa law has long contained elaborate procedures to protect the rights of property owners.

The changes made by the Legislature to that law are not only unnecessary but potentially devastating to Iowa's future. The governor should not sign them into law.


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