Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush to give "serious review" to eminent domain restrictions proposed by congress.

Bush Cautious On Seizing Property

By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Washington Bureau Chief

The Hartford Courant
Copyright 2005

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Tuesday he was "troubled" by the Supreme Court's ruling in the New London eminent domain case and will give "serious review" to congressional efforts to ease its impact.

"I'm concerned about the government overreaching," Bush said in a 50-minute interview with eight newspapers, including The Courant.

The president also discussed the Pentagon's recommendation that the Naval Submarine Base at Groton be closed, but offered no clues as to his thinking. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is now weighing the fate of Groton and other bases and will present its findings to Bush Sept. 8.

Asked if the Northeast was being unfairly targeted, as BRAC Chairman Anthony J. Principi suggested recently, Bush would not comment.

He said he has met with some of the region's lawmakers about their local bases, and "I appreciate their concerns." But, the president said, "What I'm not going to do is politicize the process. That's important for people to understand."

The president, who spoke without notes as he and the reporters sat around a conference table in the West Wing's Roosevelt Room, was more pointed when discussing eminent domain.

Legislation is swiftly moving through Congress to dilute the impact of Kelo vs. New London, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision June 23 that said the government could seize a home, small business or private property and transfer it to another private interest if that transfer would help the community's economic development.

The ruling, which allowed the eviction of seven families in New London's Fort Trumbull area, drew instant protests from liberals, conservatives and a lot of lawmakers in between.

In the House, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich. - who rarely agree on anything - are pushing legislation to deny federal dollars to any project in which economic development was the reason an arm of government invoked its powers of eminent domain.

Withholding such money could mean huge losses to states and cities, and their Washington representatives have been fighting hard against the plan.

"Congress needs to think very carefully before acting," said David Parkhurst, legislative counsel at the National League of Cities. "There could be unintended consequences to moving too fast."

Those consequences include limiting "the ability of local duly-elected officials to promote economic development in individual cities," said J. Thomas Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"For distressed communities like New London, with less than 6 square miles of property, of which 54 percent is tax exempt, the power of eminent domain is critical to its revitalization," said David Goebel, chief operating officer of the New London Development Corp.

Bush recalled his days as part-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and said: "There are moments when economic development makes sense. I was involved with one such moment."

The moment remains controversial in Texas. In 1991, voters in Arlington, Texas, approved a new Rangers stadium, now called Ameriquest Field, after a sophisticated campaign Bush helped lead.

As reported, "The $130,000 pro-referendum effort overwhelmed the disorganized, poorly financed opposition with a variety of national consultants, phone banks and other sophisticated campaign techniques."

Stadium boosters also fought with local property owners to take land needed for the stadium by eminent domain.

Tuesday, Bush boasted of how "the people were given a vote. They said, `We're for this.'"

They approved the plan, he said, because "people were actually able to take a look at the pros and cons and whether this made sense and therefore give the city justification to move forward with helping to put the land together to build the stadium."

Although he chuckled and said he is hardly advocating a referendum every time a government wants to take land, "I am talking about a philosophy which should be people-oriented and that the definition of economic development be scrutinized very carefully."

During the interview, conducted a few hours before Bush left for Texas and a long working vacation, the president reiterated familiar positions on stem cell research, Social Security and the war on terror.

The Hartford Courant: