Thursday, July 05, 2007

Texas Farm Bureau: "The governor has done a great disservice to rural and urban property owners."

Governor’s explanation of veto misses the mark

July 05, 2007

Kenneth Dierschke, President
Texas Farm Bureau
Copyright 2007

Governor Perry’s explanation of his veto of the eminent domain bill on editorial pages statewide was almost as astonishing as his decision to strike down House Bill 2006 in the first place.

The governor has done a great disservice to rural and urban property owners. Governor Perry has said a great deal about private property rights, yet he rejected the opportunity to sign the most significant property rights legislation in more than a decade. HB 2006 passed the Texas House with 125 out of 150 votes. The Senate passed it unanimously. Few bills get through the Legislature with that kind of support.

Despite reports that he intended to veto the bill, many of us could not square that with what the governor has often said about property rights protection. The governor knew that many of the groups supporting HB 2006 have been his supporters. Yet, we were never contacted by the governor’s office about his concerns. In fact, our request to meet with him late in the session and prior to the veto fell on deaf ears.

It is not true that HB 2006 had nothing to do with the U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision of 2005. That case allowed the taking of property in Connecticut for economic development. We need to stop even the potential for that in Texas, and we mistakenly believed the governor was our ally.

Some Kelo protections were adopted in special session in 2005, but that was only a beginning. HB 2006 finished the job by defining public use. The bill closed the loopholes left by the prior legislation.

Kelo was only part of the story though. It was a Texas Supreme Court decision, the Schmidt case of 1993 that did the most damage to Texas property rights. It stripped away the right of Texas property owners to be compensated for diminished value of their property, including loss of access. It was this situation that the amendment by Senator Glenn Hegar was designed to fix. The governor cites this as his reason for the veto.

The governor and others have said that the Hegar amendment would have cost too much. Does fairness have a price tag? Prior to Schmidt in 1993, roads were still being built. Public projects were completed without breaking the bank. Why is fairness too expensive now?

The first number thrown out by the bill’s opponents in advance of the veto was $100 million. Before long, they were talking about a billion dollars. In his editorial, the governor refers to plural billions. Yet, there has not been any official estimate.

It is all too common to make lawyers the culprit when opposing a popular idea. They are not to blame this time, though. HB 2006, in fact reduces the amount a lawyer would earn on a condemnation case, because they are only paid on the difference between the final settlement and the initial offer. A lawyer’s portion of fair market value would not interest legions of attorneys, contrary to the story the governor is attempting to spin.

The governor’s suggestion that HB 2006 would not have affected rural areas leaves me flabbergasted. The governor, through his Trans Texas Corridor, is preparing to launch the largest taking of private property in the history of the state. Does anyone believe these roads will not bisect rural acres?

Bulldozing rural Texas won’t stop with the TTC. The 19 reservoir sites designated by the Legislature are not in Mesquite or Rosenberg. This land will be taken from rural property owners. Without the protections of HB 2006, it might well be done at a forced discount.

Rural and urban property owners share the risk of takings and unfair compensation. It really doesn’t matter where the property is located if the law does not require fairness.

The governor suggests that the Legislature strike a balance that allows property owners to be treated with fairness and respect. We welcome that. We suspect, however, that those that stand to profit from taking private property intend to leave the burden squarely on the backs of Texas property owners.

The veto of HB 2006 has severely damaged Governor Perry’s reputation as a defender of property rights. The only way we know he can repair it is to sign an eminent domain bill in 2009 that is very similar to the one he just vetoed. Anything short of that is political smoke and mirrors!

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