Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hearing Wednesday Afternoon

The issue of eminent domain abuse will be discussed at a public hearing Wednesday afternoon, at the Statehouse. I will attend, and intend to speak before the study panel. The text of my prepared speech follows below.

If you can attend, please do. If you can call or write your representative, please do. Your home should be your castle.

Good Afternoon. My name is Mike Kole. I reside at 7916 Turkel Drive in Fishers. I am a Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State.

I’d like to thank the members of this study panel for the opportunity to share my views with you on the important subject of eminent domain.

The US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kelo versus New London left most Americans stunned, and the reason is very simple. Like never before, most Americans, and most Hoosiers, are property owners. Unfortunately, like never before, property owners feel threatened.

This issue isn’t like so many other political issues you will consider. It doesn’t matter if one is rich or poor; a Democrat, a Republican, or a Libertarian. If you are a property owner, your stomach sank when you learned about the Kelo decision, because you knew at that moment that you were vulnerable in the one place you want security the most- in your home. In your property.

The idea that your home is your castle is probably one of the most deeply held, most typically American sentiments that define us as a free nation, and separate us from the rest of the world. The Kelo decision flies in the face of this principle.

There is a reason that American society has stood as the most stable society on this earth for more than 200 years. It is not our system of government, per se. It is the fact that our governments have been instructed to respect the property rights of the people. American citizens were secure in the knowledge that nobody, no matter how poor or relatively powerless they might appear, were the absolute owners of their properties, and that nobody, no matter how wealthy or powerful, could take that property from them.

Perhaps you have been to Atlantic City. If you have, you may have seen the home in the middle of the casino parking lot. A widow named Vera Coking owns her home in an area where Donald Trump wanted to expand a casino and a parking lot. Mrs. Coking refused. Her home still stands, surrounded by the parking lot. She stayed as a matter of principle. She simply did not care to sell at any price. Her home is her castle. Fortunately, her property rights were upheld in a court of law.

When property rights are upheld, not even Donald Trump can get your property from you, unless you agree to sell.

That’s no longer true, thanks to the Kelo decision. There now exists the very real threat that Hoosiers can lose their properties to re-development, whether or not they agree to sell their land; whether or not it was even for sale. And it isn’t merely smaller property owners who are at risk.

Because taking land by eminent domain for commercial purposes is driven by the tax revenues produced by the property, current owners are threatened by any project that could be proposed that would fatten the tax rolls faster than the current user does.
Hoosiers who own small parcels in genuinely blighted areas, or those merely declared blighted, are now at very much at risk of losing their property to any developer who would bulldoze the old and build the new.

If you think that change is a good idea, be certain to consider your own home. You might live, as I do, in a nice suburban home, in an affluent community. We are at risk all the same. If a developer proposes a redevelopment for your neighborhood that would bring more tax dollars to your town or city, you had better be ready to pack your bags. You are at risk.

The neighborhood of modest homes is at risk of being replaced with upscale homes. The neighborhood of upscale homes is at risk of being replaced with multi-use, residential / commercial complexes. The residential / commercial complex is at risk of being replaced with a 12-story office building. The 12-story office building is at risk of being replaced with a 20-story building.

Churches produce no tax revenue whatsoever. Are they now at risk? This Statehouse produces no tax revenue. In fact, this is where the tax revenue disappears from. Could we get a redevelopment project here?

I digress… But the point is clear. There is always somebody out there with a bigger bankroll, with a bigger plan, and with more political pull. At any moment, absent new legislation that would ban eminent domain for commercial use, a plan could come along and pull any Hoosier out of their home… their castle.

While it is important to fund our municipalities for their core functions, it is more important to protect the property rights of each and every citizen, as a matter of principle.

The greedy appetites of our towns and cities are beginning to run amok in the quest for more and more revenue. In order to grab more money, some Indiana municipalities have shamefully run roughshod over the rights of property owners and allowed others to take their lands. In the home of the free. Where the home is the castle. It’s disgraceful.

Fortunately, the Indiana Legislature has the opportunity to return the sense of security to all Hoosier property owners- rich or poor, large or small- by banning the use of eminent domain for commercial purposes.

Let Indiana join states such as Alabama in banning eminent domain for commercial uses. 31 states, including Indiana, are studying the issue of eminent domain abuse. Let us be certain that Indiana is not a state where property owners have to fear redevelopment, where they have to look over their shoulders. Let us not drive property owners who want to be secure in their ownership away from Indiana.

I urge the Legislature to act to ensure that Indiana is one state where property rights are protected and secure.

I urge you to pass legislation that bans the use of eminent domain for commercial purposes.

I thank you for your consideration.

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