Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Takings Legislation: Who Benefits? 

12-09-2015 17:35

Takings legislation is part of a broad political project to reduce public interest regulations across America. Takings proposals have been introduced in 48 states and are now pending in Congress. While many states have defeated these advances, 18 states have passed some form of takings law.

Two basic kinds of takings legislation have been introduced. Compensation bills require taxpayer-funded payments to corporations or others who claim that certain laws limit their profit margins. Assessment bills require government agencies to conduct complex and expensive studies to predetermine how programs might affect property owners. In both cases, takings legislation acts indirectly to halt public interest laws, including historic preservation, by tying up agencies in red tape and fiscal constraints.

It is always useful to ask of an idea, "Who benefits?" In the case of takings legislation, the answer is large corporate interests who require government permits to develop their property, especially resourceextrac-tive industries and major commercial and residential land developers. These industries have poured tens of millions of dollars--in the past year alone--into legislative and electoral campaigns to support takings.

The takings movement is based on the dangerous and flawed premise that property owners are entitled to make the maximum profit, regardless of the impact on their neighbors and the community. Doing away with the idea that we should seek a balance between rights and responsibilities, takings bills would tip the political scales to make it practically impossible to protect the public interest against private greed. In the face of this opposition, preservation activists and others have had notable success in stopping takings bills.

The National Trust started American Resources Information Network to respond to the takings crisis, recognizing that historic preservation would be greatly hindered by takings measures, because protection laws would become prohibitively expensive to enforce. Taxpayers would be forced to pay land speculators whose development plans were disappointed by a government decision to avoid adverse effects on a nearby historic site and would have to pay mining companies to excavate in a sensitive way to diminish the impact on a historic district.

We should also look out for so-called "moderate" takings bills. They can have a disproportionate chilling effect. These laws may lead public officials to slow down or halt new land-use planning and historic preservation ordinances--notwithstanding that the letter of a new takings law does not require such caution. Armed with this ready-made excuse to oppose the public interest, corporate interests can achieve their aim of diluting public protections. Florida is experiencing this chilling effect from their new takings law right now.

I know you`re asking: What can I do to stop takings? To close, I will list just a few things that we all should do.

  1. Educate our state and federal legislators about the disastrous consequences of takings. Remind them that preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods enhances property values, attracts new businesses, and expands local economies by stimulating tourism.

    The property rights and property values of America`s homeowners are enhanced, not diminished by a framework of strong land use protections. As the saying goes, their property values are dependent on "location, location, location"--laws that increase quality of life factors are a major factor in propping up those values. Over 90% of all property owners are homeowners--65 million Americans in all. Despite its image as "private property protection legislation," takings legislation would harm over 90% of America`s property owners and would reduce their property values. Clearly, takings laws are being proposed for the benefit of a tiny fraction of property owners and to the detriment of most property owners.

  2. Be sure to emphasize the cost to taxpayers and the new bureaucracy that takings proposals would require. "We taxpayers simply can`t afford to pay developers whenever the public asks them not to develop." In fiscally constrained times, proponents of takings legislation should be ashamed of proposing a brand-new, expensive entitlement program for which taxpayers will foot the bill.

  3. When you discuss this issue, emphasize our support for private property. What we oppose is takings legislation. Language matters; we can`t let our opponents get a rhetorical advantage. We all support the constitutional protection of private property rights; but these `takings` proposals are beyond the constitution and beyond common sense.

  4. Build coalitions with other forces, such as local elected officials and planners, religious leaders, Leagues of Women Voters, labor unions, environmental and civil rights groups. Well-coordinated alliances have made the difference in stopping takings.

  5. Please contact us at American Resources with suggestions, and for help and advice in fighting takings legislation in your state and with your Congressional delegation. We want to help--that`s what we`re here for.

Publication Date: Winter 1996


Author(s):David Socolow

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