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My Solution To The Eminent Domain Issue

By Ron Lewis
July 29, 2005

The Supreme Court recently affirmed an extension of the government’s eminent domain power to include seizures for purely economic advantages. Here in North Texas, that decision immediately weakened the strong resistance to condemnations ordered to make way for the new Dallas Cowboy Stadium. Like all typical eminent domain controversies, some citizens didn’t want to sell their family’s homestead, others thought the compensation offered was inadequate. The Supreme Court decision essentially rendered all protest moot and left Americans at the mercy of local economic development bureaucrats.

Few who protest the court’s decision deny a government’s right to seize private property for critical civic projects – a new dam for instance, or an interstate highway. They disagree however, that government has that same power if there is no exigency and only the pure economic advantage.

I empathize with their feelings, but I also know a successful economic development program will often return to the community many times its cost in jobs and taxes. However, when one accepts the reality of pervasive corruption and influence peddling at the local levels of our governments, and recognizes that much of society’s benefits from these development projects are often siphoned off by politicians and developers, the protestor’s case becomes more persuasive.

I sincerely doubt we can end local corruption permanently and so I propose the issue of eminent domain be approached from a new perspective – one that acknowledges the enormous potential of the development project and allows the private property owners to participate.

Currently, the governing entity decides to condemn and decides what compensation is fair to the property owner. Yes, the owner’s input is heard, but in the end (and more so now with the Court’s decision), the government has the final say. Sentimental value, any hardship on the owner caused by the seizure, and other ancillary “costs” are often ignored or are inadequately compensated in the owner’s opinion. I propose that the property owners become “partners” in the economic development plan, rather than unwilling patsies.

Using the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium as an example, I believe the displaced homeowners should have been approached with an offer to join the venture. There ‘contribution’ to the project is their land, and like every other entity that receives benefits or makes profit from the project, they should receive a ‘return on their investment.’ I’ll bow to any accountants among the UK readership to work the numbers, but essentially, the value of the land represents some percentage of the overall costs and I believe each owner should receive that percentage of the profit accruing from the project. Why should the government and the private developers only profit?

Of course, government will scream that there is not enough profit, blah, blah. If so, then don’t do the project. Unless those pitching the project can assure that it is truly ‘profitable’ to every participant, including the landowners, the project should not be approved.

Yes, this does not solve the problem of sentimental value and those who simply want their land, but it does provide a more realistic theory for compensating their loss. And it strikes a blow at corruption – the developers, etc. will have to open their books to auditors and confirm the actual profit/increase in land value – instead of preaching poverty while secretly pocketing millions. Plus, it just seems so American.

Just my idea, I’m sure the devil is in the details.

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About the author: Ron Lewis is a software salesman extraordinaire, albeit habitually unemployed, with no significant accomplishments at age 47 other than two wonderfully talented children who take after their mother. All his friends note his keen insight, bad eyesight, doggedly jaded disposition, and rugged bad looks. A third person seems to recall that he talks too much.

Email: grnacres@direcway.com


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