Thursday, June 23, 2005

Let's Take All the Property!

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the use of eminent domain by local government for economic development or, more accurately, redevelopment purposes, came out today. There are any number of media accounts -- take your pick, you can find something about it everywhere!

And by and large, it makes local government look like Simon LeGree, waiting in the wings to take the widow's property so they can give it to some big developer to make himself richer. My, how the media loves to play up the "dramatic" aspects of any news story -- guess they have to sell those newspapers and pump up those TV ratings!

My experience is that eminent domain is used very sparingly in such cases, only when it may be the last resort. Most government officials are aware of the negative public perception such actions produce and try to avoid it at all costs. But in legitimate redevelopment projects, you are usually dealing with a number of land owners. Often, most landowners are willing to sell and get out from under those blighted, low value properties, but one holdout can stymie what most everyone agrees is a good project. In such cases, just the threat of eminent domain can do wonders to make things come together. And often, landowners benefit from local government threatening eminent domain, to help them avoid capital gains tax issues.

In Utah, the legislature removed the power of eminent domain from the RDA law in the last legislative session, so the U.S. Supreme Court ruling has little effect, one way or the other. What it may mean, however, is that eminent domain is definitely on the table as the legislative tax reform task force looks at revamping the RDA law this summer. How will that play out? Stay tuned for a further discussion from me on where the RDA issue is going.

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