P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
Once again, it is time to extend my heartfelt thanks for your support and encouragement during a year when PRFA has been able to break new ground and carry out its established work effectively. This has been an exciting year for private property rights, but the New Year really holds before us the direction that the state legislatures, the Congress, and the courts will take.
In November, the voters in the State of Oregon won a great victory for private property rights, approving by 60% a referendum to provide just compensation for "regulatory takings." The wording of the new law is clear and simple. It says that state and local government will have to make the choice between paying to compensate property owners for the reductions in their property value for regulatory takings or allowing the property owner to use the property without abiding by modern land-use regulations. This means that, unless the rules existed before the current owners bought the property, individual property owners will no longer have to pay for environmental and smart growth restrictions.
If a property rights law as fundamental as this could garner such a broad majority in Oregon, the next phase is obvious: bringing such initiatives to the voters in many other states, and, where initiatives are impossible, calling the bluff of the legislatures and the Republican Congress.
Of course, the new Republican domination of both houses of Congress and the presidency is on everyone's mind. Will legislation akin to Oregon's have a chance in Congress, faced by lobbying by both Democratic and Republican-dominated state administrations, the powerful national associations of counties and towns, and the environmental groups? Republicans had zero interest in a fundamental approach to takings compensation during the halcyon days of the Republican Congressional victory in the early nineties.
Reform of the Endangered Species Act, which is up for reauthorization, is in the cross hairs of Congress and big agricultural and industry lobbyists. The grassroots property rights movement is gearing up. With a Republican Congress and Administration, all sides hope that reform will relieve landowners of the exorbitant costs and uncertainty of the implementation of the Act. The problem is that small landowners and big agriculture and industry do not have exactly the same interests. The cost of regulation can be borne by large corporations as long as they have certainty, but small landholders cannot pay for habitat conservation plans and the like. And small landowners are not nearly as amenable to measures that sully their property rights, such as selling conservation easements in their land.
As for wetlands regulatory reform, the Administration has stood on the wrong side, in contradiction to the important property rights victory just a few years ago in the Solid Waste Authority of Northern Cook County case, known as SWANCC, which restricted the federal power over wetlands. The EPA and Corps of Engineers have worked to undo this Supreme Court ruling, which held that the federal government has no jurisdiction over isolated wetlands as supposed "navigable waters of the United States." But that position has begun to change for the better.
A groundswell of action against the epidemic of eminent domain to take property from one private owner to transfer it to another private owner for urban redevelopment has focused on the case of Kelo v. New London, which the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. To the dismay of the property rights movement and freedom-loving think tanks, the Bush Administration was intending to offer a "friend of the court" brief on the side of the City of New London in support of taking private property which was not "blighted," even by today's fictitious standards, to transfer it to a private developer for the sole purpose of economic development. In November, surprised organizations who thought that the Bush Administration was their friend rallied in opposition to this Administration tack.
But, considering this summer's reversal by Michigan's highest court of its own decades old Poletown eminent domain decision, where the City of Detroit had ultimately wiped out a neighborhood for a Cadillac plant, hopes are high that the Supreme Court will decisively turn back the tide of rapacious eminent domain. PRFA's "friend of the court" petition brief in support of the nation's highest court hearing the Kelo case, which was brought by the Institute for Justice, has been accepted. Hogan and Hartson a law firm in Washington, D.C., has just filed the final PRFA "friend of the court" brief helping to argue the case in favor of the small property owners and businesses in the desirable waterfront Fort Trumbull neighborhood.
The use of eminent domain to improve the tax base by destroying downtown neighborhoods for private development is an issue that has brought city-dwelling and rural activists together in the Property Rights Foundation of America's work. Over the years, advocacy on behalf of urban landlords who are experiencing the injustice of rent control, unconstitutional searches, and other property rights infringements has been a significant part of PRFA's cause. But it is abusive eminent domain that has finally drawn urban and rural people together under the fundamental banner of private property rights.
One of the compelling speeches at PRFA's Eighth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights in Albany, N.Y., on October 23 was given by Craig M. Call, the Property Rights Ombudsman for the State of Utah. Addressing the audience soon after the event opened, he lifted expectations to a high level. The Property Rights Ombudsman is a powerful office in Utah, making a difference in the treatment that property owners receive by state regulators and by agencies seizing property for highways and other government uses. The ombudsman makes certain that fair appraisals are obtained by the property owners at government expense. As a result, fair compensation is becoming the rule without costly litigation. Mr. Call's presentation at our conference has inspired leaders who attended to worked toward establishing property rights ombudsmen elsewhere in the U.S.
These experiences with private property rights during 2004 are an indication of exciting possibilities in the near future. Working together within PRFA and with other organizations, we'll create opportunities that will demand our consummate skill and unflagging commitment to advance our great cause. We need to redouble our efforts on behalf of private property rights.
Your financial support for the work of the Property Rights Foundation of America is greatly needed to take advantage of the challenges and opportunities that are before us. Every dollar you contribute to PRFA is used with care to maximize the impact of your generosity. In fact, much of the professional work of PRFA is entirely volunteered.
Please help as generously as you can. All contributions to the Property Rights Foundation of America are tax deductible, under the IRS determination that PRFA meets the requirements of IRS Code Section 501.c.3.
On a personal note, I'd like to add that the thoughts and involvement of PRFA participants across the country are the strength and inspiration that make this work so significant to the cause of private property rights. It is an honor to receive your support, and your generosity will once again be greatly appreciated.