Virginia Department of transportation

Despite 75 Percent Approval Of 2012 Property Rights Amendment, Government Still Engaged In Eminent Domain Abuse

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee will consider SB 194, a bill to protect property owners from inverse condemnation, a technique that subverts the Property Rights Amendment Virginians passed with 75 percent of the vote in 2012, after government bureaucrats prevented it from reaching the ballot for years. It is a shame that after such a massive victory for families and for liberty from big government, we still must fight eminent domain abuse. Here’s what VDOT and other government agencies now do: When it needs land, it publicly announces its intention to take land for "development rights" or for "conservation easements." However, the agencies don’t make an offer for the land. Meanwhile, the property, often in the same family for decades, or invested in for retirement or for family needs, such as paying for children’s college education, instantly loses massive value.

The property owner can’t sell it to anyone, because nothing can be done to the land. The government agency can take its time — often years — until the property is so cheap, it’s compensation to the owners for the taking is a fraction of what it once was worth. This is a backdoor method of making taxpayers subsidize government!

The perfect example of this is the Tri-County Parkway in Prince William and Loudon Counties. There, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the federal government teamed up to "grant" conservation easements to land in a historic district so as to build a road near a historic battlefield. Yet, it asked no property owners if they wanted the easements and, in fact, every property owner wrote asking for their land to be removed from the easements. But, the government is sticking to its position.

Please contact members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, especially if your senator is a member. Ask them to support Senator Dick Black's SB 194 this Wednesday. The bill will protect property values by allowing the owner to get compensated for what the land was worth at the beginning of the process.

The bill also dovetails with the Property Rights Amendment’s language that allows property owners to receive just legal expenses in these indirect takings, just as owners do who have their land taken by conventional eminent domain. Currently, property owners, especially older ones, are intimidated from going to court for fear of expensive court costs.

ACTION: Please contact members if the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and urge them or her to vote yes Wednesday on SB 194, to prevent this shameless method of government taking families’ lands on the cheap and circumventing the Property Rights Amendment!




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:


William Zimmerman: (T) 703-568-4093 (E-Mail)

Edward Newland (T) 515-505-5383 (E-Mail)

Prince William

Willie Deutsch/Bill Pfister (T) 515-505-5209 (E-Mail)

Metro Richmond

Ron Gallagher (T) 804-591-5909 (E-Mail)

Greg Culbertson (T) 505-515-5280 (E-Mail)


Tim Pogge (T) 515-505-5224 (E-Mail)

Signs Of The Age Of Obama

More evidence that President Obama is all about the cult of personality and omnipresence eerily along the lines of third world rulers: Road signs in proximity to "stimulus" projects that bear a logo that recalls his campaign trademark. The signs themselves cost millions of dollars, paid for with — that's right — stimulus funds (i.e., taxpayer money). Talk about campaign finance reform. But we're sure that making the signs and designing the logo put people to work in good, long-term, productive jobs that already are lifting us out of the recession.

For example, Illinois spent $650,000 on 950 signs, while Pennsylvania shelled out $157,000; ABC News estimates that $20 million was spent wasted across the country. Fortunately, the Virginia Department of Transportation had enough sense to refuse the signs (Richmond Times-Dispatch). But not to be outdone, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones seems to have taken a similar path, putting up specially made signs bearing his name next to all street repaving work. Is that trickle down government — or trickle down adulation?


Sign of the times: Obama is everywhere, man, Obama is everywhere.

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!

Absolutely Nothing

As the Special Tax Session approached, we posed two poll questions, one of which asked, "What do you think will happen at the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly?" One choice we provided was "Absolutely nothing." As it happened, it won the polling with 36%, while some of the more pessimistic in the crowd thought some tax increase was imminent. As it turned out, the session ended with a wimper and, as some of us guessed — or at least hoped — absolutely nothing got done. Now, it appears His Excellency is jumping on the bandwagon, describing the session to the media with an attempt at hipness: "It was like a Seinfeld episode — a show about nothing." How clever.

But what did he expect? Special sessions are called when there is a consensus and all involved — both parties in both chambers and the executive — have some type of understanding as to what they want to do and agree to do. So he calls for a session, proposes a whopping statewide tax increase during trying economic times, and blames the other side. That's helpful.

If he was serious, there were three issues that — as with most commonsense solutions — are popular and could make great progress toward Virginia's transportation problems.

  1. The House voted 95-0 for HB 6023, an independent, outside audit of VDOT. Governor Kaine's friends in the Senate let it die in committee. How can we spend billions on new projects when we don't have a clue now (or else we wouldn't be in this condition, now would we?). Washington state did an audit of its transportation department and discovered overlap and duplication in planning, projects and bureaucracy (what's new there?); and misplaced priorities. It found simple solutions to correct problems that were thought to cost billions more. The savings? $18 billion — and Washington is a lot smaller than Virginia. (Tertium Quids has more here.)
  2. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) had a proposal to take profits from the Port of Virginia — no tax money involved — and apply that money to transportation. Better still, HB 6055, which originally was loaded with tax increases for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia residents, was smartly amended by Delegate Glenn Oder (R-94, Newport News) with input, our sources tell us, from Delegates Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown) and Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), to strip out all tax increases and use profits from the Virginia Port Authority and Dulles International and Reagan National Airports. Following the lead of Yankees may be painful to some down here, but New York and New Jersey do this successfully with their port revenue. After all, according to the governor, his mates in the Senate and the big business special interests, we need transportation to help facilitate the growth of our ports, right? These bills also died in Senate committees.
  3. As ever, a transportation fund lock box (HJ 6001). Let's constitutionally seal up that money so it can't be used for, say, new government run baby sitting programs. The governor, like other famous campaign promises, seems content not to act or, if he acts at all, it's counter to his campaign rhetoric. HJ 6001 was changed by the Senate and eventually died.

So, if nothing was done, who's to blame? Why is it "bipartisan" only to increase taxes but a "waste of time" to adopt other measures proven to work elsewhere? Why do liberals, who know so much, are such great problem solvers and are smarter than the rest of us, only know one solution for every problem? Good, commonsense, practical measures were defeated while liberals scream that their tax increase schemes died — even though they got a full debate in the Republican controlled House in contrast to the committee killing Senate actions. Besides, if nothing was done, it's not like we didn't tell you, governor; and with our wallets still intact, we're better off for this "nothing" as well. In this case, nothing is something, indeed: A win for hard-working, taxpaying families and individuals.

Floor Fireworks

The General Assembly convened today for its special "tax session," and the rhetorical fireworks started flying right away. After Governor Tim Kaine urged passage of his $1 billion tax hike while he addressed a joint session of the House and Senate, members of the House Republican caucus went on the attack. Delegate Kirk Cox, the majority whip, (R-66, Colonial Heights) ridiculed the governor's defense of the Virginia Department of Transportation. Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) criticized the governor for ignoring the financial difficulties of "average Virginians" while asking for higher taxes. He also kept up his attack on Kaine for being "absent" during this process, saying he is more interested in "campaigning for the Vice Presidency." 

House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem) ripped the Governor for failing to provide any leadership and bringing the GA back without having gotten consensus on a plan. Griffith was particularly critical of the governor's inability to find a Senate patron for his transportation bill (at least as of the beginning of today's session). "Normally we come to special sessions to close the deal, not start the debate," Griffith said.

Democrats supporting the tax hikes accused opponents of being "closed minded."

Consensus around the capitol is that no legislation will pass this week. Most believe that Kaine called the special session knowing the legislature would fail to pass his tax hike so he can use it as a campaign issue next year. That said, the debate should be interesting — and the rhetorical battle is probably just getting started.