There once was a little town called Norwood. It was a pretty neighborhood with small well kept houses and hard working families. Then the government put a highway right in their backyards and some families decided to move away. Still, most families stayed and made the best of it.
Then one day a property company bought some unused property near the highway along with a few nearby homes from some disgruntled families willing to sell and built an outside mall. Traffic in the area increased dramatically, but still most families stayed, having been there so long.
Then the property company decided to expand their outside mall. The problem was that there was no more adjacent property available.
After unsuccessfully trying to deal directly with families to buy their homes, the company petitioned the local government for help. When this failed as well, the property company and the local government together sued the families in court for eminent domain claiming that for the "good of the community" (a community they were trying to tear down), they should have the right to offer these families a fair price for their homes and force them to move. They won.
The families are all gone now. Their homes are demolished and new stores are going up. Just what the community needs, more stores.
This is a true story and happened in my home town six months ago.
The Supreme court yesterday ruled 5-4 that cities and towns have the right to force the sale of private property to make way for "economic development projects" (you can drive a truck through that definition). In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra O'Connor wrote, "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms." In other words, it is likely to be a non-democratic process.
On one hand the government declares an ownership society, a new era in American life where everyone should be able to own a house.
On the other hand the government declares that they can take these homes away when they see fit.
I understand federalism, but this is so far from where we started folks and the line is being drawn in such a wrong place that I don't know where to begin. I understand the public need for a dam or a bridge or even a highway, but to use eminent domain and displace families to build a mall is just plain wrong and dangerous.
And for those pundits who say we will not use eminent domain for non-essential public works I provide the real example above.
It is a great difference to use eminent domain to build a bridge, which allows commerce to be conducted, from using it to build a mall, which grows commerce. The government now decides what "good" commerce is and what "bad" commerce is?
In conjunction with this we have property taxes. As property values soar, so do our property taxes. To tax someone on the value of an asset based on what someone else is willing to pay is very dangerous. Think about the couple that has lived in their house for 40 years, paid off their mortgage ten years ago through hard work, but will be forced to sell their house because they cannot afford the higher property taxes.
This is not ownership. What is bad for private property is bad for democracy.
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