BALLOT INITIATIVES: For and Against – EMINENT DOMAIN|INITIATIVE #31

By David Rumbarger | CEO of CDF, Tupelo



FOR THE PROPOSAL

Eminent domain is the power to take private property for public use. Recently, governments have taken private property and given it to private developers for their own personal gain.
Because of this, 43 states have enacted eminent domain reform. Our Legislature tried to do so, but was vetoed. Last year, the people of Mississippi spoke up, clearly and unmistakably. Over 100,000 citizens signed petitions calling for an eminent domain reform initiative to be placed on the 2011 ballot.
The initiative follows the action passed by the Legislature but necessarily differs in one respect: it expressly prevents any property taken by eminent domain from being turned over to any private developer for 10 years, which is a strong deterrent.
Defending eminent domain cases is expensive and beyond the means of most citizens, while the government uses our tax money to take away our homes and property. People of limited resources are at the greatest risk of becoming victims.
Opponents will argue that reforming private property laws will stifle economic development. However, the facts clearly show that this has not been the case in the many other states where reform has been enacted.
Though eminent domain appears complicated, the basic question is this: Should a person’s house or farm be taken and turned over to a private developer immediately?
Private property is an American cornerstone based upon the concept that your home is your castle. It is a basic freedom that must be safeguarded. Last year, Mississippi’s hardworking citizens lifted their voices to insist that the power must rest with the people instead of with the rich. This initiative could well be our last chance to protect our property from being taken for private development
Make your voice heard. Save our land.
Vote Yes for Initiative No. 31 – eminent domain reform.
David Waide is former president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau and was a sponsor of Initiative No. 31. His support summary was written for a brochure distributed by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.


AGAINST THE PROPOSAL

Initiative 31 is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
In 3 years of research and collection of over 120,000 signatures of Mississippians, the proponents for the initiative have found no case of abuse in Mississippi’s history. Instead, it is trying to solve an abuse of eminent domain that occurred in Connecticut over a decade ago.
We opponents of Initiative 31 have pointed to major economic impact projects that now employ thousands and thousands of Mississippians that would not have happened if not for the existing eminent domain authority.
Initiative 31 is a “Job-Killer Amendment.” This initiative immediately pushes Mississippi to the bottom in terms of competitiveness when we’re fighting with neighboring states for projects employing thousands of people. It’s passage will have unintended negative consequences.
Worst of all, the initiative doesn’t end eminent domain use. Government, at all levels, will still be able to take land for roads, water and sewer lines, private gas company lines, hospitals and other facilities. This does not stop 99 percent of the eminent domain actions in our state today. Instead, it needlessly alters our state constitution for absolutely no legitimate reason.
Our constitution has worked just fine on this issue for over 100 years. We don’t have the problems people see in other states like Connecticut or Massachusetts. Mississippi sparingly and carefully uses eminent domain for projects that create thousands of good-paying jobs. With our state’s unemployment rate still around 10 percent, we should not further hamper our job-creation efforts.
In fact, over the past eight years the Toyota project has been the only project to require eminent domain. One parcel acquired through the process was a church site that had been abandoned for 85 years. It also was used to acquire mineral rights from people who had passed through and left Mississippi decades ago and had not returned or shown any interest in mineral exploration; an escrow was established for these owners.
When Mississippi does use eminent domain for large projects there are several steps to take.
First, local government must approve the project, and then it moves to the Mississippi Development Authority for approval. After that, the Legislature and the governor must sign off. Even after all of that, a property owner who is unhappy with the price offered, can seek relief in the courts. Just and due compensation has been paid in every case in eminent domain in Mississippi.
Proponents of this measure will tell you 43 states have passed this already. But those states have not adopted what Mississippi voters are being asked to approve on Nov. 8. This initiative is a solution looking for a problem and the unintended consequences will be untold lost jobs for our state into the future.
The real solution is that Mississippi needs eminent domain reform through the Legislature. Real reform would require replacement cost instead of just appraised value for improvements to property. Through the legislative process, we can create reasonable eminent domain reforms that protect Mississippi property owners and will allow the state to pursue the high-paying, high-skilled manufacturing jobs we need for our future. Vote against Initiative 31 on Nov. 8.
David Rumbarger is CEO of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo.