Property Rights Foundation of America®

from the Sixth Annual New York State Conference on Private Property Rights
November 16, 2002, Albany, New York

Protecting Private Property — Prospects in the 108th Congress
Michael Hardiman, Hardiman Consulting, Washington, D.C.

I'm supposed to speak on Prospects for the 108th Congress, which begins next year. Unfortunately, we are not done with this year's Congress, the 107th Congress. I would like to draw your attention to the latest dark-of-night land grab that was approved by the House of Representatives just last week. This is very important. You will see the big letters, CRISIS, I think, on here. I think some of you may have already seen this. This is a piece of legislation that was approved at 2:35 a.m. on Friday morning with no debate, no hearings, no recorded vote, no nothing, and it is a doozey.

It is a Republican-sponsored bill. Why would Senator Bob Smith, Republican of New Hampshire, sponsor this bill? Well, maybe because New Hampshire Trust for Public Lands gets $9 million. They then turn around and hand over $7 million to the International Paper Company, and they keep the other $2 million. That's New Hampshire's Senator Bob Smith's going-away present to the environmentalists in New Hampshire. Bob Smith, of course, is leaving office. The other Republican sponsor is Congressman Jim Hanson, who is finishing his term. Jim Hanson is presenting himself with a couple of very nice awards. One is $2 million for the James V. Hanson Shoshone Trail. That is on page 49. Oh it gets better! On page 52 is $11 million for the Bear River Visitor's Center, which, when it is completed, will be named after? James V. Hanson! So you are all paying for these millions of dollars, of course.

But, in all seriousness, I have to ask you at this point in the session, the House of Representatives is going home. They are gone. But the senators are meeting next week from Tuesday to Thursday, just for three days. This bill was in the Senate, was approved, went to the House, was changed around, and now it has to go back to the Senate again. At this late point in the process, if even one senator objects, then the bill will go down the drain, because the time is so short. So any senator can do what's called "placing a hold" on the bill.

These are the three things, aside from the goofy Jim Hanson memorial to himself, the three serious things it does is that it changes the Endangered Species Act to make it even worse, incredibly. Now you have Endangered Species and Threatened Species. This bill proposes to add a third category called "Species At Risk." All right?

The second thing it does is that it hands out up to $50 million per year for cooperative conservation plans that include property acquisition with no restrictions on condemnation power. So it is a $50 million a year land grab.

The third thing it does is it hands out up to $50 million per year to something called Shrubland and Grassland Conservation. Well, that sounds fine enough, except when you look at the definition of shrub and grass, which is pretty widespread. I mean we are talking grass here. The first thing is shrubs and grass. The second thing, though, is areas that are "historically dominated by grass and shrubs," and if that's not enough, it also can put a hold onto land that, "if restored to natural grassland would have the potential to serve as habitat" for endangered species or threatened species, or this new category called species at risk. This bill is a nightmare. And it passed at 2:35 a.m. It is sponsored by two members, one senator and one Congressman, who are leaving. They got their piece of the action; so their attitude is take a hike, buddy, I got mine. So this needs to be approved by the Senate next week. If any senator puts a hold on it, it will be stopped. The thing is that so much of what goes on late in the session is personality related, not really philosophical. You can get anybody from Hillary Clinton to George Allen or anybody in between to stop this thing, just based on who wants to get their friend appointed to a judgeship in exchange for stopping this and getting going on that. Anything could happen. So please contact your senators regardless of who they are. It's going to be tough to get even one senator because, of course, now Smith and Hanson are leaving, they are getting their little piece of the action, but all these guys think this way. So it's going to be tough to get even one, but we want to get a few. So please take a look at that.

The other thing I will go over quickly is that there is the good news is that since Congressman Chair Hanson is leaving, there is a vacancy for the chairmanship of the House Resources Committee. The two most important committees for property rights legislation are the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will have an incoming chairman who is very good, the other is the House of Representatives Resources Committee. One of the people running for that is my old boss and someone who has spoken at this conference before, Congressman Richard Pombo. Who becomes chairman is decided by something called the Republican Steering Committee. It's about twenty of the more senior members, and there are two New Yorkers on there. I am going to manage to acquire it, but I don't have it right on me, the secret list of who is on this steering committee. But one is Congressman Sweeney, though, who is on it, and the other one I can tell you after we are done. They vote on who becomes chairman, and then it is ratified or confirmed by the full Republican conference, so every member has at least something to say.

Now, in terms of next year, you have the Republicans running Congress rather than a split control; but, of course, it's questionable how much of an improvement that may be since there are some good Republicans out there and then there are some other Republicans out there.

But in any case, there is a good chance for some improvements to the Endangered Species Act. There was legislation introduced this year that would put much stricter requirements to scientifically prove if a species is actually endangered. For example, we heard about fairy shrimp before. I believe fairy shrimp occur in 38 out of California's 52 counties, and it's incredible that they are said to be endangered. I have personally seen these fairy shrimp in abandoned tires, as one of the previous speakers said. I used to live out in California. So there is a very strong chance we can get some improvements to the Endangered Species Act.

We did manage to successfully defeat, really, all of the early bad stuff this year with the exception of this S.990 bill I hope you'll work on. One is the National Heritage Areas legislation, which was stopped dead in its tracks by Congressman Pombo, who took the lead in stopping that. That essentially puts a federal zoning overlay over a particular area, and, to give an idea of what happens to people and to business in these areas, the National Mining Heritage Area has no mining in it and mining is virtually prohibited in the National Mining Heritage Area. So these are the kind of things that happen. In whatever the Heritage Area is named after, that activity is basically prohibited. That may come up next year, but there's a good chance that we'll push that aside.

Something that was proposed this year was regarding the capital gains tax. Of course, when you sell your property you have to pay capital gains tax. There was a proposal that if you sold your property to another private party, you had to pay the usual capital gains; however, if you sold your property to a land trust or a government agency, your capital gains tax was cut by 50 percent. So this is a huge incentive to convert privately owned property over to a land trust, rather than your own children or your friends or your neighbors or some private entity you may want to sell it to. The environmentalists and the land trusts operate best behind closed doors. For example, at 2:35 a.m., when they pass these goofy bills. This legislation was never a stand-alone bill, so I can't even give you a bill number. It actually died, but it was a part of the President's Faith-Based Initiative! Now what, you might ask, what on earth does a tax cut that benefits land trusts have to do with a faith-based initiative? Well, really absolutely nothing, unless you are going to get religion about land trusts, I guess, but that's where it was actually buried until we dug it out and then found it.

In any case, one thing that is very, very good news is the estate tax, the "death tax." And this is something where I want to thank President Bush. When you look at the battle over the estate tax repeal that occurred last year, the coalition that was in support of the estate tax, that wanted to keep the estate tax, consisted of the three groups that benefit from the estate tax—the estate planners, who make lots of money off of this; the insurance companies, who make money off of this; and the land trusts. The land trusts are the biggest supporters of the death tax around, because, of course, this forces people like us to, instead of giving the property to our friends and our family and our relatives, it is much more likely it gets given over to a non-profit. Many of these non-profits, of course, have CEOs that make half a million dollars a year. Of course, that's another story.

In any case, this coalition in support of the estate tax was mostly Republicans and they hired former Republican senator, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, for their top lobbyist. They raised and spent millions. One of the reasons they hired Simpson was because he is a fishing buddy of Vice President Cheney. They also hired people who are hunting buddies of President Bush, and I have to congratulate and thank, and this is I think one of the really untold stories, President Bush and Vice President Cheney stood tough every inch of the way in the face of their own good-old-boy hunting and fishing buddies, and said, take a hike. The largest single contributors to the pro-death tax coalition was the Rockefeller family, who were members of the Rockefeller family and the Rockefeller assorted trust funds. They hired Alan Simpson and several other high-profile Republicans, and Bush and Cheney stood them down. They got nothing. Due to some budget gimmickry, this estate tax repeal is for nine years. Now, with the Republicans taking the narrow majority in the Senate and a good-sized majority in the House, it is very likely that the death tax will be repealed, permanently repealed. So, at this rate, people with, I mean, you say a million or several million dollars that might sound like a lot of money except if you have got a farm or a ranch or a reasonably successful business. Of course, the Rockefellers and the other super-rich have never paid a dime of death tax because they have the ability to set up tax shelters of various kinds and avoid this kind of thing. So it is for the moderately successful people that Bush and Cheney — President Bush led the way and, of course, took a lot of Democrats with him, as well — as almost all the Republicans. So it is an excellent, excellent chance that the estate tax, otherwise known as the death tax, will be permanently repealed next year. That might be the best thing for private property rights that could occur.

There are always the bad guys out there who want to feed their organizations at the public trough, but there is good news out there regarding possibilities with the Endangered Species Act, to improve it, and also a very good chance that the death tax would be repealed. I'll stop there.

Let me go back to Mr. Pombo for a moment. I would like to go over a couple of things that Richard Pombo has done as a senior member of the House Resources Committee. As soon as he got to Congress, he immediately established a Property Rights Task Force, which then became the Western Caucus, and, by the way, one of the best members of the Western Caucus is Congressman Peterson of Pennsylvania. There are other people from different areas from around the country, although it is called the Western Caucus.

Congressman Pombo has held hearings across the country on the Endangered Species Act, at which 115 people who had never testified before Congress before testified for the first time. So there were a lot of voices from all across the country that were never heard from before. Of course, he published the book, This Land is Our Land, about property rights and challenged the authority of the United Nations land-use designations and also took to court the proposal for American Heritage Rivers. Also, he has been to the last three Savés conferences and has spoken out very strongly in support of ownership of wild life, of private ownership of wildlife, which has been a benefit to many, many Africans but also to American companies such as circuses, and those who deal with the transport of animals, timber producers, as well as American hunters that go overseas and hunt for wildlife. It is a benefit for them, where they get hunting experience, but it is a huge benefit for these African countries because the American hunters are over there and just spend thousands and thousands of dollars, which is a lot of money for us, but it is a couple of years income for these people in Africa.

So it is all across the board. I've known Richard Pombo for eleven years now and he is a fantastic person , as well as being an excellent advocate for private property rights. For those of you having Republican members of Congress — the Democrats do their own thing — but those with Republican members of Congress, I would ask you to contact them and to ask them to support Richard Pombo for Chairman of the Resources Committee.


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