Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hutchison: "I did not have an epiphany on private property rights. I've been there since the beginning."

Hutchison weighs in on eminent domain


The Associated Press
Copyrigt 2009

AUSTIN — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison jumped into the eminent domain battle simmering at the state Capitol on Monday, saying landowners whose access to their remaining property is diminished because of eminent domain should be fairly compensated by the state.

Hutchison, who plans to challenge Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2010, told the Texas Farm Bureau that she's been a longtime ally and that addressing reduced land access is a part of protecting private property rights. Afterward, she told news reporters she "absolutely" believes the state should pay property owners for diminished access caused by eminent domain.

"I think diminished access, that diminishes the use of property, is part of what should be compensated," she said.

That stance, in agreement with the farm bureau, appears to put her at odds with Perry.

The issue came up in a fight two years ago in the Legislature when Perry irritated the farm bureau by vetoing an eminent domain bill that addressed it. At the time of his 2007 veto, Perry said one reason for rejecting the bill was because it would have expanded damages a landowner could recover to include diminished access to property when part of a piece of property or nearby property is condemned.

Last week, Perry said that legislation was loaded up at the last minute with "personal interest legislation" and high costs for taxpayers. "I think I made the right decision then," he said.

Debate over diminished access already is popping up this legislative session, and eminent domain is likely to be an issue in next year's GOP primary for governor.

Perry took a stand for property rights Thursday when he invoked the name of Texas independence fighter Davy Crockett and said he wants to amend the state constitution to further protect private landowners from eminent domain abuses. He didn't directly address the farm bureau's concerns about reduced access.

Perry's spokesman, Katherine Cesinger, said Monday in response to Hutchison's remarks that the law already allows for compensation for diminished access. She said Perry believed the 2007 bill would have taken payments to an "unnecessary level."

Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said Thursday that Perry needs to sign "a meaningful bill — one that addresses compensation" to help restore his reputation as a defender of property rights.

Dierschke praised the governor's recent comments about eminent domain reform. But he said the farm bureau won't be satisfied with a "half loaf" and said certain property owner protections are needed, such as requirements for good faith negotiations and payment for all factors a buyer and seller would normally consider.

"He has not yet said anything about compensation for lost property value when takings reduce access to a property," Dierschke said.

In an apparent reference to Perry, Hutchison told the farm leaders: "I did not have an epiphany on private property rights. I've been there since the beginning. And I hope that you all will remember that I have been there since the beginning."

Hutchison reiterated her opposition to Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor toll road network. The Texas Department of Transportation recently said it was dropping the name "Trans-Texas Corridor," but Perry and his aides have said parts of the project will continue, including a toll highway planned to run parallel to Interstate 35.

Over the weekend, Hutchison gathered with hundreds of campaign supporters in Austin for a private strategy session on the 2010 governor's race. She released a long list of big-name supporters, but it didn't include any state lawmakers. She said she hasn't asked any state legislators or statewide office holders to take a public position in the race yet.

"They want to be able to do the legislative business without any retribution," she said Monday. Perry has veto power over legislators' bills. "I'm not saying I think that (there would be retribution from Perry) but I don't want to put anyone in a position of jeopardy."

Perry declined to comment on Hutchison's campaign when he made an appearance of his own over the weekend at an anti-abortion rally.

© 2009 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: www.star-telegram.com