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Perry Flips on Private Property Rights

Guv vetoes bill offering protections from eminent domain

By Amy Smith, Fri., June 22, 2007

Among the 49 bills Gov. Rick Perry vetoed last Friday was an expansive eminent domain bill that would have required more government accountability in condemning private property for public use. Perry blamed his decision on the $1 billion price tag and on what he said were two cost-prohibitive amendments added late in the session. The provisions would have given landowners greater legal standing in seeking fair compensation and other damages through the courts.

Perry said taxpayers would bear the brunt of the legislation's costs while a small number of eminent domain lawyers would clean up at the courthouse. What he didn't say was that the bill would have put a crimp in his pet toll-road projects and halted so-called public-use projects (Downtown condos, hotels, etc.) that are largely driven by private developers.

The governor's spin went this way: "Taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of legislation designed so that condemnation lawyers can exploit a new category of damages for their own personal gain." Put another way, the veto leaves in place a government's ability to kick people out of their homes so that private companies and joint ventures from here to Spain can continue to reap the rewards of taxpayer-funded projects. Lucky stiffs.

Perry said officials from nearly every major municipality in Texas had asked him to veto House Bill 2006, which passed by wide margins in both chambers, because it would hinder road projects needed to meet transportation demands in high-growth areas. Limiting eminent domain authority at the local level would also throw a wrench into routine infrastructure improvements and school construction projects, he said.

It's true that good-faith arguments can be made for cities and counties to pursue condemnation proceedings – theoretically as a last resort. But Perry's controversial Trans-Texas Corridor Project, overseen by a Spanish company, and a curious downtown revitalization plan in El Paso, which would displace hundreds of families and small-business owners, are two high-profile examples of eminent domain gone wild in Texas. The irony of Perry's veto is not lost on those who remember the governor's land-rights stance in 2005 as he was preparing to run for another term. The issue of property rights, he said at the time, "is a very important issue to Texans who want assurances their private property won't be taken from them to advance someone else's private interests."

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