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SUPREME BLUNDER: THE EMINENT DOMAIN RULING
Carl F. Worden 6/25/05
The outrage over the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows local government to condemn private property and give that property to private developers, is palpable everywhere I go. Every fellow citizen I run into is furious over the ruling, and well they should be.
Prior to this obnoxious and anti-constitutional ruling, Eminent Domain, or the right of government to force private owners of real estate to sell their property at fair market value for public projects, was carefully limited. For example, if a major public project like building a highway or bridge required acquisition of certain privately held property, Eminent Domain would be brought to bear.
But this latest Supreme Court blunder opens the door for abuse that is almost limitless in scope, depending on the state in which you reside.
What the 5-4 decision concluded is that private property could be taken under Eminent Domain if the private development that replaces the private property will produce higher tax revenues for the local government. Read that again.
I have long predicted a major conflict between the private sector and public sector. Last time I checked, government employees, which includes school teachers, Post Office employees, firemen, cops, dog catchers, etc., comprised 45% of all voters, and I'm certain that figure has risen. Here in Oregon, the public sector has been blessed with a Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) that has been a windfall for those employees, while the private sector in Oregon has no organized retirement program at all, short of Social Security. In short, the public sector employees made sure through negotiations that they got theirs in spades, and very much on the backs of the private sector taxpayers who didn't benefit from it at all.
I don't want to give the locals any ideas, but I must use my own example to demonstrate just how abusive this latest Supreme Court ruling will be. I write "will" because I have observed that if government is given the right to do something, they will use it every time.
Okay, now here is the coming scenario -- and it IS coming:
Our trade imbalance from so-called "free trade", and the housing price bubble caused by speculators is going to come calling on us, and the result will be massive unemployment, inflation and home foreclosures. All of these things will result in substantially reduced tax revenues to local governments. If local governments lose tax revenues, they have to lay employees off just like we do in the private sector when business revenue falls off. But here is where it gets nasty.
Carl F. Worden owns 20 acres on the southern tip of a mountain in Southern Oregon. The view is the most breathtaking in the entire Rogue Valley. Looking south, the entire valley is on display, including the City of Medford that is lit up at night. I can even see Mount Ashland, our local ski resort. To my left is Mount McLoughlin, a dormant 9,900 foot volcano that is snow-capped, and it stands above the City of Eagle Point, which I also clearly view. To my right is the Rogue River, that runs between my home and what the locals call the "Table Rocks", which are two massive mesas that are quite spectacular themselves. I own a piece of property that is simply incredible to anyone visiting, and it is a piece of property local government might come to covet after this onerous Supreme Court ruling.
Carl Worden pays around $2,400.00 in property taxes each year, but if my property were to become a destination hotel/resort or even a restaurant of some kind, the tax revenues local government would gain would probably be five to ten times that amount.
So let's say Jackson County, Oregon is feeling pinched in a bad economic climate, and let's say a wealthy land developer drops in one day and tells the County Commissioners that if they use Eminent Domain to take Carl Worden's gorgeous property, the private land developer will apply to change Worden's land zoning to commercial, and Jackson County will reap substantially higher tax revenues than it does now, and to top it all off, the developer is going to do the job at no cost or risk to Jackson County. Now what do you think those County Commissioners are going to do? huh??
That is exactly what happened in the Connecticut case that went to the Supreme Court. A wealthy land developer told the local, cash strapped government that if they would use Eminent Domain to force people to sell their homes on the riverfront, the developer would replace the private homes with a commercial project that would guarantee far higher tax revenues, and the local government went right along with it. What is shocking is that the Supreme Court went along with it too. Even more outrageous is the fact the people having to give up their riverfront homes to a private developer, do not get to share in the profits from the commercial development that follows. I'm sure many of those home owners might have gone along with the plan had that fair compensation been offered, but it wasn't, and now the private developer gets to go home with all the marbles.
And now you know all about what this outrageous ruling portends, and what to expect, because now that they know they can do it, they will do it. That's just the nature of the beast -- unless, of course, we all get together and kill the beast. I see that day coming very soon.
Carl F. Worden
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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