Monday, June 18, 2007

Perry's Playbook: 'When all else fails, blame the lawyers.'

Highway to Hell

Perry's veto shows he cares more about the Trans-Texas Corridor than Texans' property rights


By: David Morris
The Battalion
Copyright 2007

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the infamous Kelo v. New London case that private property is not an inherent right, but merely a privilege granted by the state. This ruling expanded the power of eminent domain and abandoned all previous understanding of the Takings Clause of the fifth amendment when it concluded that condemning, or the government taking your property despite the failure to reach a mutually amicable agreement, for economic development falls under the rubric of "public use." And so, what the state giveth, the state taketh away to make room for strip malls and business districts.

Luckily for Texans, the Texas legislature made an effort to right this wrong, passing House Bill 2006 at the end of May, just before the end of the 80th session. The aim of HB 2006 was to restrict the power of eminent domain by narrowly defining what constitutes "public use," and thereby restore the property rights of Texas citizens. An impartial observer might think that Gov. Perry would jump at the opportunity to reassure Texans that their rights are of paramount importance and held near and dear to his heart by signing this bill into law.

Instead, Perry vetoed the bill on Friday, saying, "The state and local government would be over-paying to acquire land through eminent domain in order to enrich a finite number of condemnation lawyers at the expense of Texas taxpayers. This bill will slow down and shut down needed construction projects through the creation of a new category of damages that are beyond the pale of reason." When all else fails, blame the lawyers.

However, we are left to wonder whether Perry's concern ultimately lies with the lining of lawyer's pockets at taxpayer expense, or the potentially harmful affect of HB 2006 on one of Perry's pet projects - the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Spawned approximately five years ago, the Trans-Texas Corridor can be aptly described as a massive blight upon the face of Texas, which will split the Lone Star state in two. Plans so far call for building what amounts to a 1,200 foot wide highway stretching from Mexico to north of Dallas.

The problems with this project are legion, among them, the potential environmental impact of a 1,200 foot wide, 600 mile long highway, the taking of private lands, diverting travel, and therefore income, from other areas of Texas and that it is designed as a revenue source first and transportation project second. Considering that 97 percent of Texas is privately owned, this project requires a major buy up of private property, which would have been hindered by the provisions of HB 2006.

Of course, HB 2006 is not the only piece of legislation that Perry has vetoed that would have limited the Trans-Texas Corridor. He also vetoed HB 1892 in mid-May, which would have given more control over development of transportation projects to local governments, as well as placing a moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

And so the Governor has let the people of Texas know that their rights play second fiddle to "economic development," and until the next legislative session, we must live with the fact that our property is not our own. To those whose property lies in the way of the Trans-Texas Corridor juggernaut or whose scenic property would make a fantastic site for a new shopping mall: good luck. Thanks to the egregious ruling of Kelo and Perry's plans for Texas, you'll have no protection from the sticky fingers of the government for two more years.

© 2007 The Battalion:

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