Property protected by government

Friday, January 27, 2006

There's a fight looming over eminent domain in Missouri. In my mind, the fight is over if you use common sense. More about that later.

A press release that crossed my desk this week from the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation noted that Americans agree using eminent domain to take one's property solely for economic development is wrong.

The issue is in the air since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that governmental entities can use eminent domain to give private property to another economic entity for economic gain, the federation press release said.

As Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said this past week, the case involved Kelo vs. City of New London.

So the fight is on.

The federation points to a telephone survey taken last fall by Zogby International, a well-respected polling organization that has a crackerjack record for picking U.S. presidential candidate winners, where a majority of people aren't happy with the ruling by the nation's highest court.

"When asked if they agreed with the Supreme Court ruling, 95 percent of survey respondents disagreed and only 2 percent agreed and 3 percent had no opinion,'' the federation reported. The survey consisted of 58 questions asked during 1,076 interviews.

Here's some other results of the survey:

"Although 65 percent of the respondents supported the government seizure of private property for public uses such as roads, electrical utilities or pipelines for natural gas, 60 percent opposed seizure of private property for construction of municipal, county, state or federal buildings. Even more -- 70 percent -- opposed the taking of private property for construction of athletic facilities, convention centers and museums. The strongest opposition -- 83 percent -- came from the idea of taking private property for private economic development such as a shopping mall, office park or housing complex," the press release said.

Blunt's Eminent Domain Task Force is the chief vehicle for the issue here at home. The federation reports that many of the pieces of legislation in Jefferson City regarding eminent domain track the task force's desire that eminent domain be prohibited for use by private developers.

"We must ensure that eminent domain abuses in Missouri are forever ended," Blunt said in a speech that was part of the Missouri Farm Bureau's Property Rights Day at the capitol.

"We must strike a balance to protect property owners' rights and to allow the taking of private property only where there is a clear and direct public purpose," the governor said, adding, "Property ownership is among our most basic rights as a people. It is the government's role to protect those rights."

This issue strikes home more in larger metropolitan areas than smaller ones. Cities are in a squeeze for land and if they don't bring out their city services through annexations -- another whole set of problems -- they are strapped to find enough land that can be developed.

I believe that a landowner has the right to get a fair price for his or her property if a decision is made to sell the land to a possible developer. Simply seizing the land just because you can smacks of the attitude a bully displays on the playground.

Let's hope the governor's task force recommendations are adopted by the legislature and this issue can be put to a rest in Missouri.

Mason is the editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. Spectrum appears on Friday.