Eminent domain testimony

Thank you to John Todd for this testimony on this threat to liberty, and for traveling to Topeka to deliver it.

To: Members of the House Federal and State Committee, March 6, 2006 hearing.
Subject: Testimony in Support for the passage of House Concurrent Resolution No. 5025;
conditional Support for the passage of House Concurrent Resolution No. 5040;
and unconditional Support for the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1616;
all involving Eminent Domain reform.

I am a real estate broker and land developer in Sedgwick County, and a Volunteer Coordinator for Americans For Prosperity, and a member of the Wichita Independent Business Association. I am not here to speak for these groups, but as a real estate practitioner and private citizen.

You should not allow cities, counties and state agencies the power through eminent domain to force someone to involuntarily sell their home, their business, or their farm so they can give it to other private owners for their own private use. Under redevelopment law, city councils can essentially become the agent for the powerful, politically connected developers that tell city councils, “condemn this persons home, business, or farm, and through our development process, the tax revenue for the city will go up, and in the process you can look like visionaries.” (See attached testimony presented by Tim Sandefur, attorney for the “Pacific Legal Foundation” to a California legislative committee) Until the recent Kelo decision, the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution has allowed government to take private property for “public use” only, but now “public use” means anything a governmental unit decides will “benefit” the public, including increased tax revenues. That is why Steven Greenhut in his book, “Abuse of Power: How Government Misuses Eminent Domain” explains why cities in some parts of the country are taking non-taxed church properties through the eminent domain process and turning them over to tax-paying private developers in order to increase tax revenues. A chapter in his book entitled, “God Doesn’t Pay Taxes” explains that abuse in detail.

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort,” wrote James Madison, and for this reason, “that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

Our opponents argue that eminent domain is used only as a last resort, and that it isn’t used very often. Tell that to the small business owner who now has local government involved in his business as an “unwanted” partner with no financial interest in the business demanding that he vacate the location he has spent a lifetime building up to a larger competitor. Is there really any amount of money that will satisfy the “just compensation” argument for such a forced involuntary move that it has taken this business owner decades to build?
Another argument we hear is that eminent domain is a valuable tool for economic development. I believe just the opposite is true. Eminent domain abuse damages people’s faith in their own government, and people who are not secure in their own possessions cannot plan for their own future. A healthy economy is best achieved when individuals are free to use their own resources as they see fit. When government decides how the individual uses his property, the resultant system works poorly because it necessitates the use of coercion. The protection of private property rights is therefore essential to a healthy economy.

Nobel Prize winning economists Milton Friedman says, “In an economically free society, the fundamental function of government is the protection of private property and the provision of a stable infrastructure for a voluntary exchange system. When a government fails to protect private property, takes property itself without full compensation, or establishes restrictions (and follows policies) that limit voluntary exchange, it violates the economic freedom of its citizens.”

We need a Constitutional amendment in Kansas to protect private property rights from eminent domain abuse. I support the eminent domain reform contained in House Concurrent Resolution No. 5025, with conditional support for House Concurrent Resolution No. 5040. However, I believe you can best serve the citizens and property owners of this state by setting the goal for eminent domain reform higher through the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1616. A poll commissioned by Americans For Prosperity shows that a resounding 90% of the Kansans polled favored eminent domain reform. I would ask you to give the people what they want!

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