National Federation of Independent Businesses

When A $15,000 Government Bill Costs Taxpayers $505,000

"We're from the government and we're here to help." Usually used as a line in a joke, that expression actually applies far too often — as in the government trying to help, but instead turning a situation pear-shaped. A recent example involving VDOT and a Wythe County farmer is the latest example, for only In Virginia can a government agency turn a $15,000 cost into a $505,000 bill for the taxpayers. But it's not simply the money. We often lose rights in the process, which makes perfect sense of  these situations to government bureaucrats.

This issue resulted from the Virginia Department of Transportation's refusal to pay a landowner $15,000 to clean up debris from construction work on property it seized with the power of eminent domain to expand a highway (see Roanoke Times). Years later, a court decided in favor of the property owner, a decision that ended up costing Virginia — that would be you and I, the taxpayers — more than $500,000 in attorney fees, reparations to the property owner and other costs.

This November, you can help address this major problem by voting YES! on Question One, a constitutional amendment protecting your property rights, as well as your wallet.

The government's power to take property for "public use" was expanded by the U.S. Supreme Court, in its deplorable 2005 Kelo decision, to include increasing tax revenue — a threat not only to private landowners but also to churches and religious institutions. After all, religious organizations don't pay property taxes. Replacing those buildings with strip malls or big box retailers that pay taxes and feed local coffers is a temptation some local government officials simply can't control. In addition, government often doesn’t compensate landowners for their actual financial loss when their property is seized or when access to their property is infringed upon.

The court inflated the legal term "public use," meaning a school or other necessary facility used by the public at large, to a new term,  "public purpose." This new term gives state and local governments wide latitude for concocting reasons for which it could seize private property — including, mist commonly, turning one's property over to a corporation that will develop it to increase tax revenue for the government to use for whatever broader purpose it wants under the guise of "economic development."

To address this, after seven years of debate, effort and inaction, even as many states rectified Kelo within a year, the 2012 General Assembly finally passed legislation putting a property rights constitutional amendment on the ballot. While support for property rights is strong, a coalition of organizations that support property rights, including The Family Foundation, the Virginia Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and others, are working to make sure Virginians understand how important it is to support this crucial ballot initiative.

The protection of property rights was a principle critical to our Founders' vision of America. Unfortunately, as with many of our Founding Principles, it's up to the citizens to remind government that we still believe in and want those principles to be enforced.

"Vote YES!" yard signs will be available soon at our field offices. Contact a field representative in your area to reserve a sign today:

Fairfax/Alexandria

William Zimmerman: (T) 703-568-4093 (E-Mail) william@novafamily.org

Edward Newland (T) 515-505-5383 (E-Mail) Den81590@alumni.marymount.edu

Prince William

Willie Deutsch/Bill Pfister (T) 515-505-5209 (E-Mail) willie.deutsch@gmail.com

Metro Richmond

Ron Gallagher (T) 804-591-5909 (E-Mail) FFA.Gallagher@gmail.com

Greg Culbertson (T) 505-515-5280 (E-Mail) greglc7@gmail.com

Peninsula

Tim Pogge (T) 515-505-5224 (E-Mail) timpogge89@gmail.com

Virginia Senate Trounces Your Constitutional Private Property Rights, Empowers Government At Your Expense!

Just a couple of hours ago, the Senate Finance Committee (see vote) trounced on your constitutional rights to just compensation in eminent domain cases. Actually, it's worse than that. It trounced on your rights simply to present evidence to juries in eminent domain cases! The following is the news release, just issued, by the patron of HB 652, Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville):

Senate Committee Kills Bill to Protect Landowners

~Armstrong vows to continue to fight for average citizens~

After passing the House with a 98-1 vote, Delegate Ward Armstrong’s “Landowner’s Rights Bill” (HB652) was killed in a Senate Finance Committee on a 10-3 vote Wednesday morning. Senators Reynolds, Watkins, and Hanger were the only members voting in favor of the legislation.

HB652 would have provided that any restriction, change, or loss of access to or from property taken under the power of eminent domain to be considered as an element in assessing damages for the purposes of determining just compensation.

"I’m very disappointed that the committee chose to side with government instead of the average citizen," said Armstrong. "The worst thing that a government can do to someone is deprive them of their liberty; the second worst thing is to deprive them of their property without just compensation. I intend to introduce the measure again next year."

The bill was supported by a variety of groups including: The VA Farm Bureau, National Federation of Independent Businesses, The VA Agribusiness Council, and The Family Foundation.

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.

Eminent Domain Reform Bill In Sub-Committee Tomorrow Afternoon!

Okay, here's one that defines strange political bedfellows. The Family Foundation, the Farm Bureau, Tertium Quids and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, are backing a HB 562, patroned by House Democrat Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville). The bill provides just compensation to those who have land rendered useless because of an eminent domain taking. 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 which limits government abuse of people's property rights.  In other words, condemners want to take the land they need but not pay for all of it. This bill will allow the addition of the unusable land to be factored into the price of the compensation for the eminent domain taking. Very fair. Very needed. (For those who think the 2007 law solved all our problems, see this about the Burkholder's — a Roanoke couple and its small business, via FromOnHigh.)

The bill comes before the House Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee (click here for members)tomorrow afternoon. Contact the members and ask them to support property rights in Virginia. This bill will go a long way to restoring the rights of farmers, small businesses and home owners who work very hard for their property, only for government agencies to take it, or worse, play games with it with no fair compensation.