Thursday, October 22, 2009

“This proposition is Rick Perry's get-out-of-jail- free card for the election year. He wants a political win and wants us to accept crumbs to get it.”

Perry lauds eminent-domain proposition in San Antonio stop

Related article: No Guarantees Proposition 11 Will Prevent Kelo-style Takings


By Gilbert Garcia
San Antonio Express-News
Copyrigh 2009

Proposition 11 has sparked a fundamental, statewide debate. It's between those who hate eminent domain and those who hate it even more.

These two factions are divided on the proposed constitutional amendment — which comes before Texas voters on Nov. 3 — that would restrict the ability of state and local governments to seize private property and hand it to developers purely for the enhancement of tax revenues.

Gov. Rick Perry is largely distrusted by both groups because he actively supported the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor project and vetoed a 2007 eminent-domain reform bill favored by property-rights activists.

But Perry, who's expected to face a tough challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in next March's GOP gubernatorial primary, put his fence-mending skills on display Thursday afternoon at a 15-minute press conference in front of the San Antonio Board of Realtors.

Touting Texas as a state “built by people who understand the importance of private property rights,” Perry lauded Proposition 11 as part of a “firewall” necessary to protect property owners from unwarranted seizure by developers.

He was joined Thursday by State Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, one of the legislature's most persistent advocates for eminent-domain reform. He authored the proposition.“Right now, we have no protection in the [state] constitution,” Corte said. “This will send a strong message to the legislature to do more next time.”

Eminent domain became a national hot-button issue in 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London, Conn., could take property away from homeowners for a private development because it could increase tax revenues. The decision, which expanded the legal interpretation of “public use,” incited a backlash from those who worried that eminent domain could be used to trample the rights of landowners.

In response to that decision, the Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2005 that limited the state's eminent-domain powers to public projects — such as construction of roads and public buildings. Proposition 11 essentially would write the provisions of that law into the state's constitution, while also insisting that property seized because of urban blight must be taken one parcel at a time.

Corte argues that Proposition 11 is not redundant because it cements the 2005 law. “Legislation can be overturned, but it's much harder to do that with a constitutional amendment.”

Governments traditionally have used eminent domain to take private property for public projects, with officials providing displaced landowners with fair-market value for their homes.

Gene Hall, spokesman for the Texas Farm Bureau, describes Proposition 11 as a modest but important step to protect property owners.

“What we're asking for is a more level playing field,” Hall said. “Proposition 11 deals with one narrow part of our eminent-domain problem. That's reason enough to do it. But it won't take care of our entire problem.”

While the Texas Municipal League and Texas Association of Counties have been wary of eminent-domain reform legislation in the past, neither group has taken an official stand on Proposition 11.

Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, strongly opposes Proposition 11. She argues that the proposition's language — which limits eminent domain to actions “for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property” by state and local governments, and bans seizures for “certain economic development” — simply creates more confusion, and the possibility of more wiggle room for developers.

“You can do this incrementally and never get a real fix — or kill everything until you get the bill you want,” she said. “This proposition is Rick Perry's get-out-of-jail-free card for the election year. He wants a political win and wants us to accept crumbs to get it.”

On Thursday, Perry dismissed such criticisms by saying, “There are always people on the periphery who think that something doesn't go far enough.”

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