HB 652

VDOT Hoarded $1.45 Billion While Opposing Just Compensation To Landowners

What do property rights and the suddenly found surplus at VDOT have to do with each other? Unfortunately, a lot. First, a little more detail than yesterday's post, which was based on early reports. As it turns out, the much asked for (and denied administratively by the previous two governors as well as legislatively by General Assembly tax-and-spenders) private audit of VDOT found more than $500 million buried in a hole or sitting in a closet. That was for only the most recent fiscal year. A cumulative amount, from all sources, including something akin to unused federal funding credits, totals $1.45 billion! The reasons ranged from projects coming in under budget (good) but the unused money not then reallocated to other or new projects (bad), to money stashed away from canceled projects (really bad), and a reserve fund (on top of the "Rainy Day Fund") that was never used and allowed to accumulate excesses of unneeded cash (incredibly inept).

As I mentioned yesterday, it's not exactly as easy as 2 + 2 = 4, but that's exactly why conservatives for years have asked for a private audit. Governor Bob McDonnell administration deserves credit for an excellent first step in VDOT and state government reform. He also has found a way to put much of this money to work within weeks. As the governor said, we've been sitting in traffic while the money has been sitting in the state's wallet — all while General Assembly liberals and former Governor Tim Kaine tried to ram tax increase after tax increase at us for transportation.

That's unforgivable governance. But what's worse is the arrogance of VDOT and local governments in opposing one of the most important bills during the 2010 General Assembly — HB 652, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) — which would have provided property owners a mechanism to get full and just compensation when government took their land through eminent domain. In what can now be exposed as nothing less than despicable, VDOT slapped a speculative $40 million (over five years) Fiscal Impact Statement on the bill. Speculative because there was no fixed cost to the bill, only a legal process to allow property owners a fair shake at compensation.

VDOT, in essence, was admitting that it underpays property owners, never mind the impropriety of a state agency using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to sabotage the rights of those very same taxpayers, by meddling in the legislative process. But that didn't stop the agency from crying poverty, saying it couldn't "afford" it, and that it hardly had the money it needed to keep up with basic maintenance. Not ironically, it teamed with those same government-at-all-costs (literally) legislators to kill the bill in the Senate Finance Committee (some of whom had additional nefarious reasons) after it passed the House 98-1. All while hoarding $1.45 billion of taxpayer money.

So, this revelation has several layers of repercussions. Not only has there been mismanagement and an attempt to raise taxes for no reason, certain legislators and government bureaucrats have trampled on constitutional rights and used our tax money to do so. That's one big intersection of devious interests that VDOT has no business building.

What Exactly Does The Family Foundation Do During Session?

We're too busy to know ourselves, sometimes. Where does the time go? It's as if that 7:00 a.m. sub-committee ended only an hour ago . . . and it's already 8:oo p.m.? And I still have an hour's work to do? Really, it seems the mace was carried into the House chamber to open session just a couple of weeks ago. It's mid-March already? What happened to the snow and the Courts of Justice docket? I'm still seeing bill numbers and unattributed opponents' talking points in my sleep, thank you very much HB 652. Enough already of the stream of consciousness . . . besides, thanks to one of our interns this year, Drew Wingard, we have a documentary about the day in the life of The Family Foundation during session. It pretty much captures the crazy pace of the first two months of the year, every year. We think you will enjoy this video very much. Remarkably, it was the first time Drew ever picked up a camera or used a Mac editing program. In it, you'll see all of your FF favorites: Victoria, Chris, Jessica, Marie, your humble Admin (although a great ad lib of mine was unceremoniously cut), Roger, Dale and Dan's door. You'll also see some cameos — Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) and former Attorney General and newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims, among them.

A day in the life of The Family Foundation during General Assembly session — it's no life!

Virginia Family Harassed By VDOT 11 Times Over Eminent Domain! But Virginia Senate Still Rejects Bill!

To add insult to injury, the Senate Finance Committee's rejection of HB 652 comes on top of this: A Virginia man and his family's farm have been condemned through eminent domain 11 times by VDOT over the years! But the Virginia Senate today, and over the last two weeks with its legislative game playing in the Courts of Justice Committee, has shown it cares not about your constitutional rights to property. By the way, the victim's attorney, Joe Waldo, was one of our expert witnesses during the entire legislative process. Be warned: This man's story is sure to make your blood boil. Remember, VDOT attached the "Fiscal Impact Statement" to HB 652 that effectively killed the bill.

VDOT's thirst for private property NEVER ends. Ask this poor man.

Property Rights: Your Rights? Or The Government's Right To Take It From You?

Yesterday, HB 652, the property rights reform bill, was referred by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to the Senate Finance Committee because of an alleged "fiscal impact" to the state. The bill will be heard tomorrow morning in Finance. The impact simply is hypothetical, conjecture and/or assumption. Take your pick. Fiscal Impact Statements are supposed to identify the cost of bills that require certain new expenses, not something VDOT says "might happen." This is nothing more than big government bureaucracy trying to kill a bill that would have them rightly compensate people whose property they take. Yesterday, in Courts of Justice, when committee Chairman Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond) said he was bringing up a motion to refer the bill to Finance, Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) was rightly surprised. He asked if the bill had a Fiscal Impact Statement. The reply from a senator opposed to the bill was, "Yes, a big one. One that will affect future budgets." Oh, how the big government lobby has them fooled. There was some discussion, but the bill had its course set — not much anyone could do at that point. The vote was taken and it was sent to Finance unanimously.

But facts won't die. When the House Appropriations Committee thoroughly vetted this bill, it found no fiscal impact! There is no more of a fine tooth comb in the General Assembly than the House Appropriations Committee. But the forces of big government, such as lobbyists for the counties and cities, as well as VDOT, will do everything they can to prevent liberty and scuttle property rights that affect families, small businesses and farms.

Were HB 652 to become law, it would go a long way toward making whole families whose businesses, homes and farms are horribly affected by eminent domain. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and co-patroned by several Republicans, passed the House 98-1. It would allow property owners a chance to present evidence that a government property taking has rendered other property useless, and therefore receive adequate compensation. It is a fairness bill — it guarantees nothing — only that such evidence can be presented to a jury in eminent domain cases. The government can still make its case and if it has a good argument it will win. Fair is fair.

But the big government types — who use your tax money to lobby against you — are trying hard to kill this bill. They say it is "too expensive" even though all alleged "costs" are speculative. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) said it best: "I don’t know how VDOT can arrive at an impact. It’s like they’re predicting juries!" We agree and if VDOT and other agencies say they’ll have to pay more money, it’s an admission that they have been ripping off landowners in Virginia for decades. Enough of that! Let them take only the land they need and pay a fair price for it or don’t take it at all — then they won’t have to worry about a "fiscal impact."

According to our property rights expert witnesses, this is the biggest eminent domain reform law in Virginia in decades, apart from the 2007 law that defines public use. It would be a shame for it to get this far only for a Senate committee to rule against the people in favor of big government interests whose appetite for your tax money never abates.

The Finance Committee meets at 9:00 tomorrow morning. It has a short docket, so a lot of attention will be focused on this bill. Do you part to ensure constitutional protections of property rights. Please contact members (click here) of the Senate Finance Committee now and ask them to pass HB 652.

Property Rights Heads To Senate Finance And Who's Behind The Mystery Memo Opposing It?

Another major bill had a less thrilling outcome today, setting the stage for a showdown in Senate Finance Wednesday. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee referred HB 652, the property rights bill, to the Senate Finance Committee on a 15-0 vote. It will be heard there Wednesday morning. Ever since the middle of last week when COJ yanked the bill from its Civil sub-committee for a full hearing committee hearing, rumors have bounced off every wall and ceiling on every floor of the GAB: It's going to pass because of this. It's going to die, because of that. These guys are for it. Those guys are against it. Who's to know what's true? Oh, if I could say what I know.

Here's what we do know: Big government forces continue to lobby against it and pressure senators (see video here). Their lobbyists have been in every committee room HB 652 has been heard in, waiting to ounce. In fact, the lobbyist for the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League, begged Committee Chairman Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond) to let him and other opponents to speak today. Senator marsh told him to save it for Finance.

Think this is all stuff of a conspiracy? Check out the case of the mystery memo posted on Tertium Quids: A set of unattributed talking points opposed to the bill was found, apparently being dropped off at certain senators' offices. Lobbying information is supposed to be identified, sort of like campaign mailers. Hmmmmmmm.

On the other hand, the good guys have an expanding coalition for the bill and three major editorial pages, of different political philosophies, have endorsed it since Thursday: The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

In the meantime, do your part to protect property rights. Contact members of the Senate Finance Committee and ask them to pass HB 652 Wednesday morning.

The Intrigue In Senate Courts Of Justice Never Stops

The intrigue this session in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee continues. Remember the saga of SB 504? It was in COJ, and passed out of a sub-committee, only to be abruptly referred to the Committee on Education and Health. Today, for some unexplained reason (and it may be on the up and up) HB 652, a property rights/just compensation bill, which was supposed to be heard in the COJ Civil Sub-committee was (with selected other bills) singled out to be carried over straight to the full committee on Monday morning. If HB 652 passes there, it likely will be referred to the Finance Committee because of an alleged "fiscal impact." Oh, the things I wish I could tell. But can't. But hope to once the coast is clear!

Back to matter at hand: HB 652 is a great bill that will go a long way to making whole families whose businesses, homes and farms are horribly affected in eminent domain cases. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and co-patroned by several Republicans, passed the House 98-1, and the Appropriations Committee said it caused no fiscal impact to the Commonwealth. However, we think there may be some skeptics in the Senate, so please act (see below). The bill would allow property owners a chance to present evidence that a government taking has rendered other property useless, and therefore receive adequate compensation. It is a fairness bill — it guarantees nothing — only that a farmer, small business owner or family can present the evidence to a jury in eminent domain cases. The government can still make its case and if it has a good argument it will win. Fair is fair.

But the big government types — counties, cities and VDOT, who use your tax money to lobby against you — are trying hard to kill this bill. They say it is "too expensive" even though all alleged "costs" are speculative. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) said it best: "I don’t know how VDOT can arrive at an impact. It’s like they’re predicting juries!" We agree, and if VDOT and other agencies say they’ll have to pay more money, it’s an admission that it has been ripping off landowners in Virginia for decades already! Enough of that! (See refutation of FIS.) Let them take only the land they need and pay a fair price for it or don’t take it at all — then they won’t have to worry about a "fiscal impact."

According to our property rights expert witnesses, this is the biggest eminent domain reform law in Virginia in decades, apart from the 2007 law that defines public use. It would be a shame for it to get this far only for a Senate committee to rule against the people in favor of big government interests whose appetite for your tax money never abates.

So, please contact members of the Senate Courts of Justice (here) and Finance Committees now and ask them to pass HB 652.

Property Rights Bill Faces Key Senate Test Tomorrow!

Yesterday, we posted an update on HB 652, a bill that would allow property owners to present certain evidence to juries in eminent domain just compensation cases. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), will be up tomorrow for a key vote at a 4:00 hearing in the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee. We don't know yet if the big government lobby will try to make a last stand to block or water down this important legislation in the Senate. Their attempt in the House failed. We and several allies are working hard to ensure the bill gets reported unamended. But, to give you a taste of what has happened in the past — and what may happen still — here is video of the hearing in the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Transportation. You will see a VDOT representative try to defend a speculative Fiscal Impact Statement designed to sink the bill because of alleged costs to the Commonwealth. Notice his nervousness. He knows the numbers don't fly (as we explained here).

The sub-committee didn't buy it either. It unanimously reported it to the full committee — which deals with all money bills and knows a red herring when it sees one — and which also reported it without a dissenting vote, thanks in large part to Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) who spoke some plain common sense during its final vetting. Then it passed the full House 98-1. But overwhelming numbers in one body has never stopped determined opposition from trying in the other chamber. Remember: Contacting committee members (see here) never hurts.

Constitutional property rights upheld in the House. Will the Senate follow tomorrow?

Beat Back Big Government And Protect Property Rights!

Thursday afternoon in the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee, a bill to allow people to receive just compensation when their property is taken by the government in eminent domain cases will be heard. The bill, HB 652, is supported by a broad coalition including The Family Foundation, the Farm Bureau, Tertium Quids (see comment here) and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.  The bill passed the House of Delegates 98-1, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the Senate. The patron of the bill is House Democrat Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and is co-patroned by several Republicans.  It faces the forces of big government — VDOT and local governments who use our tax money to hire lobbyists to work against our interests — who forced the bill while in the House from the Courts of Justice Committee to the Appropriations Committee with a tactic designed to kill it. There is no doubt they will pull out all the stops in the Senate as well.

But we can beat them in the Senate, too: In the House Appropriations Transportation Sub-committee, Delegate Bob Tata (R-85, Virginia Beach), a senior member of the committee, said he HB 652 came to his attention after he received more e-mail on it than any other bill this session. It shows that actively engaged citizens truly have power!

The bill simply allows property owners to present evidence to juries that they deserve just compensation for land not taken in eminent domain cases, but rendered useless because of the taking of adjacent land.  Right now, people are compensated only for the land taken, not additional land that the taking has rendered unusable. The bill is a complement to the landmark 2007 eminent domain reform law that limits government abuse of people’s property rights.

This is a very fair, very needed and very just bill for families who own homes, small businesses and farms.  If government really needs your land, they should buy only what they need and not try to get more of it on the cheap. This bill costs government nothing — it only provides for a fair hearing as to what property owners are entitled to. Government agencies will retain their right to make their case as well. It’s about fairness! As Delegate Armstrong has said, 'The worst thing the government can do is take your life; the second worst thing it can do is take your property."

If you who think the 2007 law solved all eminent domain problems, a case in Roanoke from two years ago is still in the news (see From On High), where the Burkholder family is losing its small business to the city who wants its land, even though it has no plans for it! So, click here to contact members of the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee and ask them to vote for HB 652 in sub-committee this Thursday afternoon.

Quote Of The Day: Ward Armstrong, TFF's Legislator Of The Month?

There have been some odd partnerships in the history of the General Assembly. We've partnered with some organizations, such as the NAACP and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy on payday lending, for example. But one creating the double-takes, stares and, in some cases, guffaws, is our partnership with Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) — the House Minority Leader — on HB 652, a bill that would provide a greater degree of jurisprudence to land owners who seek just compensation in eminent domain hearings. More about the bill later, but as an example of the reaction we've received in committee after committee was best exemplified Friday afternoon in the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Transportation when Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Prince William) who feigned a heart attack to a room full of laughs after I followed Delegate Armstrong's presentation to offer support for the bill.

So, today, on the bill's second reading on the House floor, Delegate Armstrong, who has been milking our partnership for all that it's worth, offered this in support of his bill:

And I might add this bill has a broad range of support including The Farm Bureau and The Family Foundation of Virginia for whom I am in the running for Legislator of the Month.

We've enjoyed the partnership, ourselves, Delegate Armstrong. But, it does prove a point. When there's good legislation involving our principles, we don't care who the patron is. We support it. We also oppose bad legislation, no matter the patron. By the way, just for the record, HB 652 also has four Republican co-patrons: Delegates Glenn Oder (R-94, Newport News), Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), Ed Scott (R-30, Culpeper) and Matt Lohr (R-26, Harrisonburg). That's a good heap of bipartisanship for anyone. Now, on to the Senate, where we hope for the same.

BREAKING: Big Win For Property Rights In Virginia

In what amounted to a sweep of a day-night double header today, HB 652, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), a bill that would allow property owners to make a case to juries in just compensation hearings for damages incurred by land no longer accessible though not taken, swept by VDOT's objections and its speculative Fiscal Impact Statement in the House Appropriations Transportation Sub-committee by a 7-0 vote. It then swept through the full committee early this evening by a 22-0 vote and should now go on the uncontested calendar on the House floor early next week. This is a huge win in the effort to reform eminent domain laws in Virginia. We'll have more details on this, including video of VDOT's arguments, Monday.

Six Reasons Why The VDOT Fiscal Impact Is Incorrect And Why House Appropriations Should Side With Property Owners!

Six Reasons Why The VDOT Fiscal Impact Is Incorrect And

Why HB 652 Should Be Passed:

1. Coincidence and Conflict of Interest? HB 652 was filed January 12 and the Fiscal Impact Statement was not dropped until an hour before the full Courts of Justice Committee met on Wednesday, February 3, where it was in the uncontested bloc. In COJ Civil Sub-Committee, where VDOT lobbied against it, members voted 10-0 to report HB 652.

2. If VDOT believes having to pay for land rendered inaccessible will cost it $36 million over five years, then it is in fact admitting it has been cheating property owners for years and years.

3. It also is an admission that it wants to take property on the cheap by not officially "taking it" from the property owner, but letting him or her keep it, although it now has become useless.

4. If VDOT doesn’t want a fiscal impact, then it shouldn’t take the land, or take less than it really needs.

5. Under VDOT’s logic, The General Assembly would not have been able to pass the 2007 Eminent Domain Reform Bill: If it estimates the “cost” of HB 652 to be in the millions, it would have had to estimate the 2007 bill as a cost of trillions!

MOST IMPORTANT, AND WHY THIS FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT IS A NON-STARTER, AND WHY HB 652 SHOULD BE REPORTED:

6. The impact rationale is faulty and speculative at best: The bill requires NOTHING of VDOT — it only allows the property owner to present evidence to the jury. The jury MUST decide and VDOT still has the opportunity to make its case!

A bit of explanation: Fiscal Impact Statements are supposed to be for fixed costs, not speculative costs. But, what has us wondering, why don't these "Fiscal Impact Statements" ever measure the "impact" on the taxpayer?

URGENT: Property Rights Faces HUGE Test Tomorrow!

Two weeks ago, Virginia property owners seemingly were on the path to a big victory. The Courts of Justice Civil Sub-Committee voted unanimously to report HB 652, patroned by House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), to the full committee. Normally, that puts a bill in the uncontested bloc in the full committee. Unless, of course, it gets picked out for some reason. It was. HB 652 would allow property owners to make a case to a just compensation jury to include land not taken by eminent domain but rendered useless by an access road, for example. But, literally, about an hour before the full committee met, The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which vigorously opposed the bill in sub-committee, submitted a Fiscal Impact Statement, saying the bill will "cost" the state $50 million over the next six years and must, therefore, be approved by the Appropriations Committee. Even though the bill had been filed for more than a month, VDOT apparently only found time to file the statement the day of the committee vote! Accordingly, yesterday, Courts of Justice passed and referred HB 652 to Appropriations where, we were just informed,  it will be heard in sub-committee tomorrow!

What makes this particularly frustrating is that the numbers VDOT proposed are hypothetical. The bill does not guarantee the property owner extra money. Rather, it only allows him or her to make the case to the jury. Furthermore, by this logic, the eminent domain reform bill of 2007 NEVER would have been possible. Besides, if VDOT’s numbers ARE correct, it is admitting it has been cheating Virginians for decades! Most importantly, why is a government agency lobbying against its bosses — the people who pay the taxes that keep them in their jobs? This is government-by-tyrannical-bureaucracy at its worst!

Although we have allies on the Appropriations Committee, and many in and out of the General Assembly are upset by what appears to be a continuing pattern, coincidence or not, of trying to block needed reform by "Fiscal Impact Statements" — whose impact does not take into account that of taxpayers — nothing is guaranteed. We need your help to ensure this most precious of constitutional rights!

Contact members of the Appropriations Transportation Sub-Committee (click here) and ask them to pass HB 652 out of both subcommittee and full committee!