Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Latest Writer's Bureau Column

I am on a rotation with four other writers in the Libertarian Writer's Bureau. The Bureau's work goes out to every newspaper in the state of Indiana. It was picked up locally by the Noblesville Daily Times in their Monday, December 28 edition. Too late for Santa Claus perhaps, but none to early for the citizens of our state. Link.
A shopping list for the Legislature
By Mike Kole

I have a wish list for the Indiana Legislature.

I'm not looking for goodies or expensive toys. I am seeking items that would bring good will, security and prosperity to all Hoosiers.

As our state legislators return to the Statehouse for the Committee Days that will help to formulate the next legislative session, it would be a good and positive sign if three things went straight to the top of the list.

Eminent domain belongs at the very top. The Kelo v. New London case shook most property owners to their foundations. Why? The sort of eminent domain taking practiced increasingly by municipalities threatens every property owner in our state.

Kelo showed that private property is not merely open for taking for genuinely public purposes, such as for bridges or drainage projects. Cities and towns can now take private land and give it away for redevelopment projects that will result in a higher tax base.

It doesn't matter how big a property owner you are. If you own a simple residence in a neighborhood, your land can be stolen and given to the developer of a luxury home subdivision. The luxury homeowner is no more secure, as his land can be swapped in favor of a shopping center. Even Wal-Mart can be replaced by a 12-story office complex, which in turn can be replaced by a 20-story building.

No matter what property you own, a developer can conjure something that will deliver more tax dollars by the structures in place. Kelo creates a climate of insecurity.An absence of trust in the state of private property will chase people away from our state to take refuge where they can feel secure that their right to property will be protected by the state, not threatened by it. Alabama and other states have passed tough restrictions on the use of eminent domain for commercial use. Indiana must follow suit. It would be embarrassing to have people flee Indiana for Alabama.

The state budget is next. Now that we've had the tax amnesty program and the controversial cuts at the BMV, it's time to get serious about restoring fiscal sanity. This means a minimum 1 percent across-the-board budget cut. Make no mistake: the budget increases that are smaller than the increases in previous years are not cuts.

Cutting across the board means department heads can't point envious fingers at other departments that might have been spared a cut. Having a Republican majority in both the Indiana House and Senate means there is no reason for the Legislature to hide from cuts. They have the numbers.

Moreover, they have a governor who earned his nickname, “The Blade,” for his willingness to cut budgets at the federal level. Here in Indiana, it's time to put away the penknife and tweezers and get some real cutting tools into action.

Cutting 1 percent is nobody's idea of a radical proposal. If Republicans lack the will to cut a measly 1 percent with this kind of majority, they simply lack the will. Libertarians in the same seats wouldn't flinch from the job.

Finally, it's time for another look at municipalities engaged in annexations. While the rules were clarified for cities and towns regarding what they can and cannot annex, not enough thought was given to the forced nature of so many of these takeovers.

It is perfectly admirable for a city or town to annex a neighborhood that voluntarily seeks to be added. On the other hand, forced annexation is the equivalent of a hostile takeover. It is an ugly and greedy process and should be banned statewide.

The right to self-determination is the very principle that founded our nation, and forced annexation negates this right for residents and business owners in areas targeted for forced annexation. On that principle alone, the practice should be banned, but there are more reasons.

Too often the real reason a town council craves the addition of a neighborhood in an unincorporated area is to add it to the tax rolls. With the added assessed value, the city or town can float more bonds. Meanwhile, residents who were getting along just fine without the town are presented with higher property taxes if they give in or an expensive legal bill if they fight.

Cities make flimsy promises because it's all they have to offer. The township resident doesn't need city police protection because they have the county sheriff. Likewise for fire protection, highway maintenance and other services. Councils, and especially the citizens, would be better served with councils looking for ways to spend less money rather than hunting creative ways to grab dollars, while offering no value in exchange. Forced annexation is wrong and needs to stop.

Should the Legislature address these three items correctly, they will go a long way toward making Indiana a more secure, productive and harmonious state — one that would serve as a wealth and job magnet instead of the kind that results in the brain drain that we have sadly become accustomed to.

Mike Kole of Fishers is the former chair of the Libertarian Party of Hamilton County. He wrote this article for the Libertarian Party of Indiana.

No comments: