"Governor Perry's legacy has already been defined by his property rights record, and it will not be favorable."
by Christine DeLoma
Volume 12, Issue 20
The Lone Star Report
Kenneth Dierschke, a cotton farmer from Wall, is president of the state’s largest farm organization, the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB). I chatted with Dierschke the other day about issues most important to farmers and ranchers. Private property rights top the list. (No wonder Gov. Rick Perry’s controversial veto of eminent domain reform shocked many TFB members) Dierschke explores the possible reasonings behind Perry’s veto of what he calls the “most important property rights legislation in at least 10 years.”
DeLoma: One of the big issues outlined in the Texas Farm Bureau’s annual convention was the need to revisit eminent domain reform, which Gov. Rick Perry vetoed. Why is reforming eminent domain important to your members?
Dierschke: The process is obviously in need of reform. When I go out and speak to people and explain to them how many entities [in] the state of Texas actually have the power of eminent domain, they are usually very surprised. Actually there are thousands of them.
The fact is, eminent domain has become far too easy, thanks to two very unfortunate Supreme Court decisions. The deck is now stacked against the property owner. For example, the condemning entity does not have to make a good faith offer before they initiate this process. That means they can lowball the property owner and force that family to decide to take the matter to court. They can get the property literally for a very low and unfair compensation.
In another case, the court ruled that property owners need not be compensated for diminished access. This is state-sanctioned robbery, and no one who claims to support property rights can possibly be for that.
I’d also like to make clear that this is not a rural vs. urban issue. For every person that owns a home, a business, a car, or other property is subject to being steamrolled by an eminent domain process that has lost all pretense of fairness.
We do not dispute the fundamental concept of eminent domain, and we also understand that with the exploding population of Texas in coming years, the taking of private property for public use will become more frequent. What we’re saying is just: Treat us fairly when that happens.
DeLoma: Were you surprised at Gov. Perry’s veto of HB 2006 and his reasons behind the veto?
Dierschke: Yes, I was very surprised at the veto. It was inconceivable to us that the Governor that has stood in front of Farm Bureau members at dozens of meetings, who was professing his support for property rights, turned his back on farmers and ranchers and property owners.
The reasons for the veto, what I’ve heard, really don’t ring true. We’ve heard some ridiculous numbers [of what it] would cost the state. But I really haven’t seen an official estimate when you come down to it...
You can’t say to people, “We want our property, but we don’t want to pay for what it is actually worth.” We can’t have that in the state of Texas.
We also heard from the Governor’s office that all the condemnation lawyers would benefit from the diminished access provision of House Bill 2006. That’s just nonsense. Actually, by more clearly defining the circumstances by which diminished access would apply, the need for lawyers would be much less.
Then there was the ludicrous claim that House Bill 2006 did not apply to rural Texas. Tell that to the farmers and ranchers whose land is in the path of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.
In fact, that is probably what the veto is about. For better or worse, the Governor has taken his legacy on the Trans-Texas Corridor. I think it is more likely that his legacy has already been defined by his property rights record, and it will not be favorable.
Folks need to understand, though, that this is not just about the Trans-Texas Corridor. Anywhere, anyone in the state of Texas can have their property taken and be unfairly compensated.
DeLoma: The Texas Farm Bureau supports compensation for diminished access to an owner’s property, yet Perry cited it as one of the reasons for his veto. Does TFB plan on bringing the issue back to the Legislature and risk a Perry veto? If so, why?
Dierschke: Our goal is for an identical bill to reach the Governor’s desk. Certainly we expect a veto. However, we expect to be able to override his veto. Our members’ challenge will be to obtain the bill’s passage in a timely manner to have the opportunity to override.
House Bill 2006 passed both houses of the Legislature with a veto-proof margin. Eminent domain [reform] is an idea whose time has come. This is a defining issue. Gov. Perry vetoed the most important property rights legislation in at least 10 years. We will not accept a gutted, meaningless bill.
DeLoma: What are some of your other top public policy priorities for the next legislative session?
Dierschke: Up for Sunset review is the Texas Transportation Commission, and I’m confident that reorganization will be of interest to our membership. Maintenance of our members’ access to available oil supplies will be significant, and as always we will be vigilant in our protection of various tax treatments that agriculture currently enjoys [such as] agriculture use valuation and the sales tax exemption on our input items.
DeLoma: What kind of federal legislation is the Texas Farm Bureau supporting?
Dierschke: Probably the main thing that we have on our agenda is the reauthorization of the 2002 Farm Bill and currently the 2008 Farm Bill — we are very supportive of that. That legislation not only impacts farmers who participate in those programs but also anyone who uses the land and water conservation programs of the USDA.
We’re also committed to the trade distortion improvements. The average tariff on products entering the U.S. is 13 percent, whereas the average tariff on our products entering other countries is 63 percent. Approximately 25 percent of our annual production is exported.
Another thing we are looking at is immigration. Our farmers and ranchers need a dependable supply of workers, and we will continue to work on that situation.
DeLoma: How important, these days, is agriculture in the state’s economy, and what do you think the state can do to support Texas farmers?
Dierschke: Well, I think the contributions that agriculture makes to the Texas economy are very significant. One in five jobs in Texas is dependent on agriculture, and that includes jobs on our farms and ranches, jobs in processing , transporting, marketing, retailing , and all those things that involve getting food from the farm to the table.
Then also there are some extremely important farm service industries and resources that go into supporting our food and fiber producers. So the annual value that commodities produce in Texas is more than $13 billion and the value to the economy of the state is more than $55 billion a year... And there are hundreds of rural communities across Texas that exist to support agriculture.
And one of the main things the state does to support farmers is the Texas Department of Agriculture. They help development of our product in state and also out of state and nationally, so we thank them for that.
DeLoma: Anything to add?
Dierschke: Agriculture is committed to a more energy-independent America. There are alternative energy sources available in Texas, mainly cellulosic and biomass energy products. The state must play a role in developing these energy alternatives. And Texas, as we all know, has been an oil and gas state for many years.
We can remain a leading energy state with the appropriate leadership. The farmers and ranchers of Texas stand ready to do our part.
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