January 28, 2006

Why Ending Kelo Is a National Issue Requiring a National Resolution

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:35 pm

From the middle of Robert Novak’s January 27 column:

PRO-KELO REPUBLICANS

The nation’s Republican mayors, in a closed-door White House meeting last week, nearly unanimously supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision permitting local governments to force property owners to sell or give way to private developers.

The GOP mayors, in Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting, heard a report on the Kelo decision by Dearborn, Mich., Mayor Michael A. Guido. Chairman of the conference’s advisory board, Guido opposed undermining the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Anaheim, Calif., Mayor Curt Pringle, a former speaker of the California Assembly, objected with arguments that reflected widespread Republican abhorrence of Kelo. Guido insisted the mayors support local government’s authority, and not a single additional mayor rose in support of Pringle.

While it is really tempting to go after the various Hizzoners, other than Mr. Pringle, who support the Kelo decision (excuse me, “don’t want to undermine” it — cute), this willingness on the part of even alleged conservatives to work with it was as inevitable as night following day.

The simple fact is this: Mayors, commissioners, and governors all compete with each other economically. They have long had various weapons at their disposal, some reasonable and some, though legal and frequently used, that are not reasonable (and in my opinion should not be legal). Reasonable: overall tax policy, education systems, infrastructure, and consumer law. Not reasonable: tax abatements for new business construction (forces everyone else to pay more and subjects the government to continued blackmail by those who threaten to leave) and tax credits for jobs created or retained (same problem as first unreasonable item).

The Kelo ruling is another unreasonable, but now legal, weapon in the economic development arsenal. States and cities that choose to use it will over time, and all other things being equal, probably be better off than those who stay away from it on principle. Politicians who want to be re-elected, even those who don’t like Kelo-type takings, will be forced to gravitate towards them in the interest of political survival.

That’s why the Kelo weapon should not be available anywhere, as our constitution intended. Because of that, nothing short of one of the three following items will suffice to correct the Court’s error:

  • A federal court reversal of Kelo that is upheld by The Supreme Court. This would appear to require the installation of one more original-intent justice to take the place of one of the five in the Kelo opinion majority.
  • An appropriate law passed by Congress that restores the pre-Kelo situation and passes constitutional muster (a dubious proposition).
  • A Constitutional amendment that restores the true meaning The Founding Fathers intended for the proper use of eminent domain.
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