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Limiting government's 'taking'

July 26, 2005

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that local governments may use eminent domain to take land that isn't generating much tax revenue and turn it over to businesses that will increase the property tax take.

Now West Virginia Republicans are taking the lead on measures that would limit the effect of the ruling in that state. A good thing, we say, and something the Mountain State's Democrats should back, in a bipartisan effort to protect property rights.

After the June decision, several national news organizations reported that eight states now prevent the use of eminent domain for the purposes of economic development, unless the property in question is blighted. Without such power, the owners of such property could hold onto it, in its dilapidated condition, forever.

But the homes in New London, Conn., were not blighted, but owner-occupied homes or well-maintained rental properties.

We suggest that West Virginia lawmakers look at how other states have limited the taking of property for purposes that don't fit our definition of a public need.

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What would? Facilities that deal with the public health and welfare, such as police and fire stations and sewage-treatment plants. Government's role is to promote the general welfare, but not by blithely pushing aside citizens whose properties don't generate the tax revenues elected officials feel they should.

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