Christie backs school choice plan
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Tuesday 30 March 2010 3:03 PM

From Philly.com

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For years, school-choice advocates in New Jersey have pushed for public school students to be allowed to attend private schools through voucherlike programs.

With Gov. Christie now in office, those advocates have their best chance in recent years, although they still face a considerable battle against those who say such programs would hurt the public schools and the students left behind. Christie supports this legislation, according to his spokesman.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R., Union) are proposing a five-year pilot program, roughly modeled on a similar program in Pennsylvania, under which low-income students in “chronically failing” public schools would be able to apply for scholarships to attend private schools, including parochial schools, or other public schools. The scholarships would be funded by private corporations, who would in turn receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits.

The program, which has been proposed for introduction in the Legislature, defines chronically failing public schools as those where, for the past two years, 40 percent or more of students scored “partially proficient” – the lowest score possible – in both language arts and math, or 65 percent or more of students scored partially proficient in either subject.

Two hundred and five public schools statewide (including charter schools) – or 8 percent – meet the criteria, including 24 in Camden, 42 in Newark, and 25 in Paterson. A handful of schools in Burlington and Gloucester Counties also meet the criteria.

The bill also would establish a competitive grant process, through which any of the so-called chronically failing public schools could compete for grants funded by the state.

Lesniak said the bill would “reduce class sizes, provide more choices to students in the state’s lowest-performing schools, and spur the innovation necessary to turn around these same schools.”

Kean, who has sponsored similar legislation in recent years, said the Opportunity Scholarship Act would “help ensure that more children in the state have the fullest opportunity to achieve their full potential.”

The Lesniak-Kean bill has the support of an unusual combination of Republicans and Democrats. Among its supporters is Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), a school-choice advocacy group cofounded by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, as well as Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the influential Black Ministers’ Council of New Jersey.

“This bill will expand school choice for kids in our worst schools,” said Derrell Bradford, executive director of E3. “It will spur innovation in low-performing schools and it will save some money.”

But opponents argue the proposal is nothing more than a backdoor voucher program.

Sen. Shirley Turner (D., Mercer), who as chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee has blocked previous versions of the bill, said the state cannot afford to give up any more revenue at a time when it is already struggling to pay its bills.

“It looks like a duck, walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck. It’s a duck,” Turner said. “Instead of trying to help improve the public schools, this is going to help them to deteriorate even further.”

Among the local school districts that stand to lose students – and state aid – if the legislation is passed is Camden.

“Generally speaking, my question is: How does this help the public schools become better?” said Camden school board member Jose Delgado. “I think the legislators and all of us should be talking about issues related to enhancing public schools, not providing a lifeline to a small minority of students.”

Delgado said the district was receiving $15 million less in state funding because of charter schools, and that this legislation would direct even more state aid out of the public schools.

He also objects to public money being used to support religious institutions.

“Where would that money usually go? It’s money that’s not going to the public coffers. You’re intercepting it before it gets there,” he said. “It’s a nice technique, but it doesn’t really hold water with me.”

The New Jersey Education Association takes a similar position on the legislation.

“We’re still opposed to vouchers and this is a voucher bill,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Baker. “These are taxpayer-subsidized vouchers for public schools.”

Under the legislation, the contributions for scholarships would be capped at $24 million in the first year of the pilot program, increasing to $120 million in the fifth year.

Lesniak said the bill will go through the Senate Economic Growth Committee, which he chairs.

He says the program would save taxpayers money because it would help keep private schools open.

“In the past 10 years, 40,000 nonpublic school students have returned to the public school system as a result of parochial school closings, costing New Jersey taxpayers in the neighborhood of $400 to $800 million in the current fiscal year,” Lesniak said.

He said that in one year, the pilot program would save an estimated $40-$80 million.

“But the tax dollars saved are not what drives this legislation,” Lesniak said. “It’s the opportunity for a quality education that the children from poor families are not getting from the chronically failing schools they currently must attend that is its raison d’être.”

Incumbents Beware: Term Limits Resurrected by Disaffected Voters
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Monday 29 March 2010 4:11 PM

From Fox News

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Politicians are staying in Congress longer and longer, but in an election year with a noticeably anti-incumbent mood, some Washington outsiders are challenging the idea of making a career out of public service.

WASHINGTON — Politicians are staying in Congress longer and longer, but in an election year with a noticeably anti-incumbent mood, some Washington outsiders are challenging the idea of making a career out of public service.

“We need folks coming in from the outside who have paid taxes and created jobs and lived under the regulations that these career politicians have created,” said Jim Rutledge, a Republican attorney running to unseat Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who has 33 years in Congress between the House and Senate.

Rutledge is typical of the outsiders running this year, who know statistics are not in their favor.

Between 1789 and 2002, 13.9 percent of House members and 21.9 percent of senators served 12 years or more, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In today’s Congress, 42.9 percent of House members and 45 percent of senators have been in office for 12 years or more, according to data compiled by the authors of the textbook “Congress and Its Members.”

Term limits supporters, who think 12 years in Congress is plenty, say those numbers have an easy explanation.

“The powers of incumbency in this country are so great that it is nearly impossible to unseat an incumbent, barring death, indictment, scandal or retirement,” said Philip Blumel, a Florida financial planner and president of the advocacy group U.S. Term Limits.

In 2008, 94 percent of incumbents were re-elected to the House and 83 percent were re-elected to the Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Term-limits advocates argue that limiting lawmakers’ time in office would help clean up some of Washington’s worst practices and rejuvenate a democratic process gone stagnant with incumbency. The basic argument is this: Open seats draw the most attention, resources and debate, so why not build them into the system by forcing people to leave office after they’ve done their time?

Curtis Gans, the director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, said term limits are a terrible idea because they take power away from the people. In a term-limited legislature, Gans said, power would fall to unelected staff and lobbyists who would keep their jobs while elected officials rotated out.

Term limits would also restrict people with the most experience and ability from serving in Congress and would contribute to the election of extreme, polarizing candidates, Gans said.

“Incumbents ought to get the benefit of the doubt if they perform honorably,” said Gans. “If they’re not incompetent, they ought to be staying in office.”

U.S. Term Limits’ Blumel said that some Republicans are embracing term limits simply because their party isn’t currently in control or they’re newcomers running for office for the first time, but popular support for the issue doesn’t fall along party lines.

“It’s really not so much a left-right issue as it is a people versus power issue,” said Blumel.

The Tea Party movement, made up of protest groups rooted in anti-Washington sentiment, has been quick to take up the term limits banner. At a recent rally outside freshman Maryland Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil’s Bel Air office, signs calling for term limits mixed among the health care reform complaints.

“Once they get in there, they get in the system and all they think about is getting re-elected,” said Mike Trott, a Tea Party activist from Harford County.

While the emergence of the Tea Party movement has breathed new life into the issue, calls for term limits from the campaign trail aren’t new.

They were promised as part of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America in 1994, but a law requiring them never gained traction and the issue eventually faded from national prominence. But in an election year already drawing parallels to 1994, Blumel is hoping that term limits might be coming back around.

“There’s a big interest in it right now. There’s a big anti-incumbent mood,” said Blumel. “If the Congress was truly representative, we’d already have this done.”

Farm Bureau launches Eminent Domain Reform petition drive in Mississipppi
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Posted by Howard Rich | Property Rights
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| Friday 26 March 2010 4:39 PM

from Yall Politics

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Farm Bureau launches Eminent Domain Reform petition drive

After several attempts to get an eminent domain reform bill passed in the legislature, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) is now taking the issue to the people of Mississippi.

“For three years, Farm Bureau has urged legislators to protect homeowners and landowners from confiscation of their private property by eminent domain, but to no avail,” said MFBF President David Waide. “The 2009 Legislature passed H.B. 803, which prohibited the taking of private property under the guise of economic development for private development or business. Both House and Senate passed the bill, but the Governor vetoed it.”

Now, Farm Bureau has launched a petition drive to put this initiative on the November 2011 ballot. If this initiative passes, it will greatly discourage government entities from taking private property for economic development purposes by prohibiting its use for those purposes for ten years.

Waide urges citizens to sign the petition. “Anyone can go to a county Farm Bureau office and sign the petition or go to the SavingMyLand Web site (http://www.savingmyland.org), print out a petition and sign it,” he said. “There is also a petition in the latest edition of Mississippi Farm Country magazine.”

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London that a Connecticut city could take away people’s homes and turn the property over to a private party to develop the property for its own profit. The Court justified this result because the increased tax revenue on the developed property would benefit the public and the use of the property was, therefore, a public use.

Farm Bureau and many others disagree with this decision. “Just because a big company or a developer has the wealth to build a hotel or office building on the property that will generate more revenue does not justify the government’s taking the property from the owner and turning it over to a wealthier party,” Waide said. “Constitutional rights should not be determined by financial standards, or favor the wealthy over others.”

For more information about this initiative or to sign the petition, visit your county Farm Bureau office, go to http://www.savingmyland.org, or sign the petition in the March edition of Mississippi Farm Country.

Farm Bureau Press Release

3/18/10

Independence Institute: Blight at the end of the tunnel
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Tuesday 23 March 2010 3:03 PM

From Colorado Daily

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As the Regional Transportation District’s FasTracks program begins to materialize, RTD is colluding with several Denver-area urban renewal entities to redevelop areas around new and existing light rail stations. Taxpayers and property owners should beware.

Eminent domain enables governments and agencies to take land for public use. In recent years, private property rights have been undermined by the corruption of the term “public use” to include private redevelopment when that property could serve a perceived public benefit.

Public benefit is a flexible concept often interpreted to mean an increase in tax revenues in a redeveloped area.

Urban renewal aims to rid a neighborhood of “blight” (some states refer to the condition as “slum”). An examination of the Colorado Revised Statutes reveals that new Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) and other urban renewal projects may themselves be blighted areas, according to state law.

To be “blighted,” an area must meet five of 11 provisions outlined by statute. The conditions that must be present include a predominance of defective or inadequate street layout; faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility or usefulness; or the existence of conditions that endanger life or property, by fire or other causes.

In addition, statutory blight includes environmental contamination of buildings or property; the existence of health, safety, or welfare factors requiring high levels of municipal services or substantial physical underutilization or vacancy of sites, buildings, or other improvements; and any condition that impairs sound growth of municipality, retards the provisions of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability.

Most of the proposed areas of TOD include plans for high-density living spaces and retail shopping spaces. Despite construction of these developments around light rail transit, the number of cars will increase on those redeveloped streets and on nearby arteries, as people drive to and park near the stations, and residents move in and park their own cars. Environmental contamination as a result will include diminished views, significant noise pollution and higher commuter traffic pollution.

These new developments also put a great strain on police and fire services. Redeveloped areas increase the burden on service districts, but decrease the funding for those services, as many of these projects rely on highly flawed subsidy-based funding mechanisms like tax-increment financing. This creates an alarming public safety concern since most of the housing will be high- and medium-density.

In troubled economic times, retail vacancy rates (and residential vacancies) are high, constituting an underutilization of these spaces. High vacancy places developers, owners and tenants under pressure. Underutilization is dangerous because of the lost tax revenue necessary to fund services to the project areas, if those owners and their tenants cannot keep up with the tax burden. Underutilization constitutes an economic liability, which impairs the healthy, organic and market-driven growth of a municipality.

For all of these reasons, TODs should be recognized as blighted areas. RTD, local governments, and especially citizens, would be wise to reexamine urban renewal plans, especially government subsidized urban renewal based on unjust eminent domain practices, to determine how best to improve blighted sights, and to ensure that redevelopment decreases, rather than increases, blight.

When TODs attract businesses and residents, traffic, congestion, noise, protection burden and blight will increase. If they don’t attract new tenants, these areas will fail economically and need to be “redeveloped” again in a few more years. Citizens should be on their guard to ensure that massive taxpayer subsidies to TODs do not create more blight than previously existed.

Read more: http://www.coloradodaily.com/ci_14726434?source=most_viewed#ixzz0j1n2h3xT
Coloradodaily.com

Project may use eminent domain
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Wednesday 17 March 2010 2:01 PM

From TheAuburn Pub

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Though officials with the Auburn Industrial Development Authority have yet to release specifics about today’s meeting on a downtown hotel, eminent domain is emerging as a possibility in the project.
Multiple property owners at the State Street site say they were approached almost two years ago by a private developer interested in buying their land.

As the property owners showed reservations toward selling, Pioneer Companies looked to AIDA for help.

One AIDA official says the authority’s goal is to get the residents reasonable compensation for the multiple properties located at the site proposed for the hotel.

But for people like Renee and Doug Ward, there is more to the value of their property than an appraisal.

The Wards purchased the small building on the corner of State and Water streets in the summer of 2007 for Renee’s dog grooming business.

After about six months of their own labor and a complete overhaul of the structure, they relocated Wag’in Tail to what they call the “perfect” location. Renee Ward no longer had to deal with paying rent.

The parking at the new space was off the street, and customers became accustomed to the new spot.

The clean, cheerful space has an almost calming effect on her while she works, she said.

“I’m very happy … happier than I’ve ever been in my career,” said Renee, who has been grooming dogs for more than 16 years.

They’re not trying to stop the progress of downtown development, Doug said. But what if they sell and the project never comes together? And if they are forced out, what can compensate for the money and time they’ve put into that space, Doug asked.

“I certainly don’t want to try and get rich on that little corner,” he said. “But what it comes right down to is the business she runs is very, very comfortable there.”

Mike Kazanivsky had a shorter, albeit straightforward, explanation Tuesday when asked about his Water Street property.

“It’s not for sale,” Kazanivsky said while clearing roots by hand on the empty lot nestled in a corner between the Owasco River and the Arterial.

Kazanivsky said he didn’t want to say anything more about the issue at this point, though he confirmed he is in the same situation as the Wards and the New Shanghai restaurant next door.

The former T & K Hardware store situated in the middle of the other three is the only property currently under contract with the developer.

According to Pioneer Companies, the plan is an 88-room hotel, restaurant and conference center on the block of State Street between Arterial East and Arterial West.

AIDA chair Jim Dacey said Tuesday that the authority’s main goal is to get the business owners in that area to work with them. Dacey said developers and AIDA will make a “reasonable presentation” to the property owners on Thursday.

“Why would anyone want to be adversarial?” he said. “It’s not good business or a good neighbor thing to do.”

But Dacey also said the specifics of that presentation will wait until the 3:30 p.m. meeting. When asked why the information will not be made public before this afternoon, he said it was at the developer’s request.

“There is no desire to have it (in the) public before that,” Dacey said.

Representatives with Pioneer Companies could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Doug Ward said he has a positive outlook on the situation, even if AIDA moves forward with eminent domain. City representatives have already reached out, he said, going as far as to offer help finding a new location if it comes to that.

Ward said he foresees the city serving a role similar to that of an arbitrator, trying to make everyone as happy as possible.

But it’s still a difficult issue, he said. The last thing they want to do is give up on something that has become an “integral part” of their lives.

“I just think this thing can be resolved in a good, positive way for everybody.” Ward said.

Staff writer Christopher Caskey can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 282 or christopher.caskey@lee.net.

Brooklyn Bar Wants to Handcuff Eminent Domain Abuse
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Monday 15 March 2010 1:39 PM

The Huffington Post

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What would you do if your favorite neighborhood watering hole was being demolished for a rich, greedy developer? Handcuff yourself to the bar, naturally.

Since hearing their favorite tavern was going to be condemned, regulars at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom in Brooklyn bolted a chain to the bar and have been practicing handcuffing themselves to it in protest of the imminent bulldozers. Voted one of the best bars in America by Esquire and consistently one of the best dive bars in New York City, the pub will soon be ripped down so tycoon developer Bruce Ratner can build himself and his Russian playboy business partner Mikhail Prokhorov 16 skyscrapers and a basketball arena for the worst team in the NBA. Today marked the groundbreaking for the development, called Atlantic Yards.

Freddy’s isn’t falling down in disrepair and pays all its bills. So why is this humble and adored bar being evicted?

It exists on land that a politically connected developer covets–and in New York, that means your property is not your own.

As is commonplace in the Empire State, Ratner’s friends in high places (Michael Bloomberg and the Empire State Development Corporation, among others) have backed his development efforts with the power of eminent domain, the ability to forcibly take private property for what is supposed to be a public use.

“Public use” conjures up images of roads or court houses–exactly what the power of eminent domain was intended for by the Framers of the Constitution. But even Bruce Ratner himself has admitted this isn’t a public project. “Why should people get to see plans?” he told Crain’s last year. “This isn’t a public project.”

So how can he use this despotic power for his own private profit? One word: “blight.”

“Blight” to most people means truly horrible slums–areas where falling-down buildings and crumbling roofs present a real risk to health and safety. But in the ’50s and ’60s, urban planners, along with pliant courts, began to expand the definition of “blight” so they could use eminent domain to raze entire neighborhoods merely because they didn’t look the way urban planners wanted them to. In the process, more than one million people nationwide, a disproportionate number of them racial minorities, were uprooted and displaced to make way for brand-new development–development that, with remarkable frequency, never actually happened.

This expansion of the eminent domain power culminated with the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the city wanted to seize the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors for a ritzier private development that would enhance Pfizer’s new research facility located next door. The Court declared the takings constitutional: Private property could be condemned for private development–even when it is not blighted–so long as a plan was in place and there was some promise of increased tax revenue or jobs. With that decision and without exaggeration, every property in America was on the chopping block.

New York had terrible eminent domain laws prior to Kelo. Nearly any property could be declared “blighted” using the state’s vague and amorphous criteria that have doomed hard-working property owners for decades. Kelo emboldened New York officials with a renewed charge to trample the property rights of the little guy for the sake of lining government coffers and developers’ pockets.

My organization, the Institute for Justice, represented Susette and her neighbors. Following the decision, the homeowners were kicked out of their neighborhood–and the developer skipped town because of financing issues. Most recently, Pfizer announced that it too will leave New London. Susette’s old neighborhood is now a vacant wasteland of weeds and feral cats–who presumably don’t contribute to the city’s tax base as the former residents did.

After Kelo, 43 state legislatures passed laws limiting their powers of eminent domain, but New York has yet to do so and remains the worst state in the country for eminent domain abuse.

Unfortunately, New York’s high court has demonstrated it will not provide any protection for home (or bar) owners in the state. In a stunning act of judicial abdication, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, deferred completely to the state’s determination that Freddy’s and the surrounding neighborhood was “blighted.” The blight study–paid for by Ratner and conducted years after the project was announced–relied on findings like “underutilization,” which means that a property could make more money as something else. That could be said about virtually any property including the mayor’s home, the New York Times headquarters (also developed by Ratner through eminent domain) or the new Nets arena itself (the way they’ve been playing, it certainly will be underutilized).

A law originally intended to remove direct threats to public health and safety has been manipulated in New York to suit the whims of any Bloomberg, Ratner or Goliath. Agencies in New York are permitted and encouraged to declare blight by fiat.

Fortunately, the state’s high court has a chance to redeem itself: a lower court has since ruled that Columbia University–an elite, private organization–could not seize surrounding businesses to expand its campus. (Again, Columbia isn’t a public university; it is a private one.) The state has appealed, and oral argument is scheduled before the Court of Appeals in June.

As long as New York’s high court continues to rubber stamp any declaration of blight and the Legislature refuses to reform its bogus law, favorite neighborhood dives like Freddy’s will continue to be seized and handed over to any developer who comes along with promises of glitzy towers and arenas–no matter how pie-in-the-sky the proposals are. In fact, the grander the promise, the better.

Sadly, eminent domain abuse will continue to disproportionately target minorities and the less well-off, as IJ found in its nationwide demographic study on eminent domain abuse, Victimizing the Vulnerable. A closer look at project areas in the New York City metropolitan area found that 92 percent of project area residents are minorities, versus 57 percent in surrounding communities. Residents are also overwhelmingly more often renters and have lower incomes.

Barring sudden intervention by the governor or other powers-that-be, Ratner will successfully uproot and destroy a vibrant piece of Brooklyn. Freddy’s will be torn down and hopefully rebuilt elsewhere. The Nets will undoubtedly secure the worst record in the NBA.

But in the meantime, we raise our glasses to Freddy’s Bar and its loyal patrons for taking a last stand against this landgrab. Cheers.

Christina Walsh is the Director of Activism and Coalitions for the Institute for Justice (ij.org), which fights eminent domain abuse nationwide.

Give Congress the Boot to Save Our Great Country: Caroline Baum
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Thursday 11 March 2010 10:40 AM

From Business Week

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Commentary by Caroline Baum

March 10 (Bloomberg) — The public is mad as hell at Washington: at the corruption, the underhanded deals, the earmarks, the sense of entitlement that comes with lifetime employment. If we don’t want to take it anymore, we can do something about it.

We the People of the United States need to make clear to our representatives in Congress, or their challengers, that our vote in November is contingent on what’s-his-name’s support for term limits. No support, no vote. Got it?

Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, introduced a “Term Limits for All” constitutional amendment in November. The amendment, co-sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Sam Brownback, Republicans of Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, respectively, would limit every House member to three terms and every Senator to two. Only with an end to the “era of permanent politicians” will real change come to Washington, DeMint said.

The last big push for term limits came from the party in power. When the Republican class of ‘94 swept into Washington, taking control of both houses of Congress, enacting term limits was high on their priority list. Twenty-three states had already term-limited their congressional delegations via referenda or their state legislatures, according to Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, a grassroots organization leading the charge. A 1995 Supreme Court ruling, U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, held that states do not have the authority to impose limits on congressional service.

Bipartisan Support

A different Supreme Court might see things differently. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the Constitution is “simply silent on this question.” The silence isn’t about to be broken with President Barack Obama and the Democrats in charge.

That leaves an amendment to the Constitution, which requires passage by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.

“Three-quarters of the states is not going to be a problem,” Blumel said. “They have a vested interest in rotation in office” as it provides more open seats.

Term limits is equally popular with the public, among Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. In an October 2008 national poll commissioned by USTL, 83 percent of Americans said they support term limits, the highest ever.

Guess who opposes term limits? Incumbent politicians, their staffs and lobbyists in search of legislative favors.

Evolution of the Species

And why not? There is no better guarantee of lifetime employment than incumbency. In the last 10 congressional elections, the re-election rate in the House was 94.6 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent research group tracking money in U.S. politics.

Incumbency doesn’t confer the same degree of security on Senators, with “only” 87.5 percent of sitting senators returned to office since 1990.

How is it, then, the average length of service for senators at the start of the 111th Congress was 12.9 years, just over DeMint’s two-term target?

Answer: Because less than half the people appointed to serve out a senator’s seat end up running for office, according to the U.S. Senate Historical Office. For every Paul Kirk, an interim senator for five months following the death of Massachusetts’ Ted Kennedy, there is a Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, who has been in the Senate for 51 years.

Founders’ Reservations

Byrd, 92, represents the kind of permanent ruling class the Founding Fathers feared. They would not recognize today’s Leviathan as the same federal government they created and to which they gave enumerated powers.

If the voters are fed up, why not throw the bums out? Blumel said incumbency is such an overwhelming advantage, many elections are uncontested and others don’t offer voters a meaningful choice. “If Ted Kennedy had lived, would Massachusetts have had a significant election?” he asked.

Thirty-seven states place some form of term limits on their elected officials, according to USTL. New York isn’t one of them. In the 3,000 bi-annual elections for New York State Senate and Assembly seats since 1982, 39 incumbents were defeated, according to watchdog New York Public Interest Research Group. A state legislator is more likely to leave office because of ethical misconduct than death, redistricting or defeat at the polls.

Our elected officials may go to Washington to do good, but they end up doing well, as the saying goes. They forget why they were elected — to do the people’s business — and focus on their own: fundraising and campaigning for re-election.

Entitlement Reform

Congressman Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, who was forced to give up his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee last week, isn’t a bad person. He got comfy with the perks of power.

Rangel served his country with distinction in the Korean War before serving his Harlem constituents for 40 years. His ethical lapses include underreporting income and underpaying taxes, accepting corporate-sponsored trips, using official letterhead to solicit money for a City College of New York education center that bears his name, and maintaining four rent- stabilized apartments, a violation of New York City rules.

He’s not alone. Remove the security of lifetime employment and lawmakers might actually have to do something productive.

With public approval of Congress at an all-time low and support for term limits at an all-time high, it’s time to seize the day. What can you do? Sign the petition on the USTL Web site. Contact your senator or representative and tell him your vote is contingent on his support for term limits.

We the people have a voice.

Rockefeller: Stopping Obama’s Environmental “End-Around”
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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| Wednesday 10 March 2010 12:59 PM

With the “science” of global warming collapsing like a house of cards, the Copenhagen “climate change” conference accomplishing absolutely nothing and a massive energy tax hike going nowhere in the U.S. Senate, President Barack Obama is now faced with a conundrum. He can either read the handwriting on the wall, or seek to accomplish through regulation what he couldn’t accomplish through legislation: the handover of U.S. environmental policy to radical environmentalists.

Does any of this sound familiar?

This is frankly the same dynamic we are witnessing in the health care debate. There, Obama says he will use procedural loopholes to ram his version of a socialized medicine proposal through the U.S. Congress against the expressed will of the American people.

Once again, it appears that Obama simply cannot comprehend the meaning of a word understood by literally millions of toddlers: “No.”

As he seeks to push his health care proposals on the one hand, Obama will no doubt attempt to frame the debate along partisan lines. On the energy front, it won’t be so easy.

That’s because West Virginia Senator John D. Rockefeller – who is among the Preisdent’s staunchest allies in the U.S. Senate – is standing up to Obama and the radical environmentalists’ power grab. Rockefeller has recently introduced legislation that would place a two-year moratorium on the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants and other stationary emitters, which is precisely the regulatory authority Obama is threatening to use if Congress doesn’t pass his “cap and trade” bill this year.

In unveiling his legislation, Rockefeller noted that his primary objective was to “safeguard jobs,” but he bluntly reminded Obama that it was “Congress, not the EPA” which bears responsibility for setting the nation’s energy policy. Additionally, three other Democratic Senators recently joined Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski in supporting a resolution that would overturn the EPA’s “scientific” finding of fact regarding greenhouse gases – a finding that forms the basis of Obama’s promised regulatory push.

Whether it’s through regulation or legislation, though, the bottom line is that Obama is seeking to dramatically raise energy prices on American consumers. In fact, documents obtained from his own Treasury Department show that the so-called “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act” (a.k.a. “cap and trade”) could drain as much as $200 billion from U.S. taxpayers, or $1,700 per family.

Other estimates place the per-family costs as high as $3,100 a year.

Clearly, that sort of tax hike isn’t something the American taxpayers can afford in any economic environment – let alone this one – even if the legislation were to accomplish its stated objectives of reducing global carbon emissions.

But that’s another fundamental problem.

Neither “cap and trade” nor excessive EPA regulation will do anything to stop countries like China from building dozens of new “dirty” coal plants over the next decade – and perhaps beyond. And frankly, neither will the $50 billion a year that Obama is seeking to steer into a United Nations “climate change fund” for developing nations – part of an international shakedown which columnist Charles Krauthammer has correctly dubbed “wealth redistribution via global socialism.”

Speaking of China (and enviro-scams), it’s also worth noting that America’s new “bailout banker” is one of several countries benefiting from billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that were supposed to create “green jobs” here in America – yet another example of the true face of eco-socialism.

Fortunately, Sen. Rockefeller and others like him are standing up for American jobs by refusing to let Obama hand the reins of the EPA over to the same environmental kooks who recently ran the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change into the ground.

Perhaps these courageous Democrats can finally teach the President the meaning of the word “No,” although from the looks of it voters may have to do that for themselves in 2012.

The author is Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

Expiration dates
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Monday 8 March 2010 2:41 PM

From Frederick News Post

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It may be time for the debate to begin once again on term limits for our members of Congress.

What has become painfully apparent is that the check voters provide each election year — i.e., voting the bums in or out — is no longer adequate. The system is broken and stacked against voters, who are demoralized by the extremes of both parties and dropping party affiliation in droves to join the ocean of the disenfranchised.

Approval ratings for Congress, never high to begin with, are at an all-time low.

According to a recent Gallup poll, eight in 10 Americans think that the job our representatives and senators are doing, to be frank, stinks.

Gridlock and indecision, political haymaking and partisanship have rendered our representation impotent. Both parties share the blame, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Men and women of conviction have been ground under the heel of party groupthink.

The wiles of power have become just too appealing. The seniority system on Capitol Hill is partly to blame, whereby the longer in office, the more power is accrued (seemingly absent of real ability or ethical standards, in many cases). Detachment from real life is almost inevitable.

This entrenchment stifles new ideas. Career politicians become more and more beholden to the monied interests that put them in office. Campaigning — and the party posturing that comes with it — becomes relentless.

Our political ancestors, with their mistrust of political power, would cast shame on today’s system of governance. They eagerly engaged in and supported rotation in office. Unfortunately, in one of their few oversights, they didn’t write that into the Constitution.

Lawmakers were never supposed to see their life in public office as a career, but as the culmination of a successful life, a time to dispense the wisdom and perspective gained from years spent out in the real world.

So we’re suggesting that our representatives in Congress be time-limited. One term of six years for a senator, three terms of two years for a House member. After a reasonable period — say, six years –they should be free to run again.

How much more effective would our lawmakers be, especially late in their political careers, if freed by the looming deadline to vote their conscience, instead of the position they believe will best fill their coffers with campaign funds, or deliver punched chads at the ballot box?

The problem of stagnation and partisanship in Washington could be solved in one fell swoop.

Of course, this is all a pipe dream. The foxes guard the henhouse. What cozily nested politician is going to willingly vote for an end to his or her time in a comfortable leather House or Senate chair?

Probably not a one.

It’s time so seize the eminent domain debate in Massachusetts
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Posted by Howard Rich | Property Rights
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| Monday 8 March 2010 1:20 PM

From My South End

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Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that has taken no action to restrain eminent domain-the government’s ability to seize property rights with due monetary compensation but without the owner’s consent-after the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision finding eminent domain for private use constitutional. It seems self-evident that forcibly taking property from one owner and giving it to another for financial gain is unfair-even un-American; yet, our legislature seems reluctant to take up the Court’s suggestion that states may enact their own restrictions. The reason is a lingering-but mistaken-belief that eminent domain is an indispensable tool for economic development and tax base enhancement.

But the opposite is true. The evidence has been clear since 1964, when Martin Anderson, then with MIT/Harvard’s Joint Center for Urban Studies, published a book titled The Federal Bulldozer, an analysis of the economic impacts of eminent domain as used in urban renewal. He provided clear documentation that in the years since private-benefit eminent domain became government policy in 1949, it had cost the taxpayers hugely more than it produced, and boded to remain a liability for the foreseeable future. Indeed, Boston is today still pock-marked with several hundred acres of land taken, cleared and held tax-exempt by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, land where people and businesses would have supported vibrant community life and paid taxes for these forty or fifty years. Eminent domain drove out residents, broke up communities, and decimated the small-business base.

In 2008, a Wall Street Journal editorial discussed a study by a private organization, Institute for Justice, which found no discernable hindrance to economic activity from the restriction of eminent domain, even in states implementing the strongest reforms after Kelo. The Journal agreed with the report, noting that although developers like to get land the government forces sellers to give up at cheap prices, and politicians like to play power games picking winners and losers, projects that can’t stand on their own shouldn’t be propped up by the taxpayers.

In 2009, William J. Stern, who ran the New York State Urban Development Corporation’s Times Square redevelopment project, wrote a report revealing that eminent domain “delayed development, added tremendous cost, and was unfair and inefficient”-and fraught with corruption.

It’s only logical that eminent domain-like other unfair public subsidies-would have negative effects. First, this kind of government intervention props up bad business plans and encourages overblown, risky projects that would be weeded out by the private markets, often leaving the city to clean up a big mess. Aside from the empty lots scarring the city, Filenes, Columbus Center and North Point are three recent grandiose local plans that were given all sorts of land, regulatory and tax favors, only to collapse of their own overreaching weight. Pfizer, the corporation for which the City of New London seized and destroyed Suzette Kelo’s home and neighborhood, recently decided “nevermind,” and moved out of town altogether, showing again, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “the futility of eminent domain as corporate welfare.” Read Nicole Gelinas’s City Journal story of the Atlantic Yards project in New York, where decay and disinvestment are the result of “a half-decade’s worth of government-created uncertainty, which stopped genuine private investment in its tracks.” We started to see tenants leaving and building maintenance neglected in the Fenway ten years ago, when a large swath of the neighborhood was declared blighted (or “potentially” blighted!) because the Red Sox team owners wanted to relocate the ballpark and fill its current site with profitable towers. Eminent domain costs the taxpayers money up front in takings compensation, and then for unpredictable periods of time in the loss of taxpaying properties. It destroys organically evolved communities and tries to replace them wholesale with artificial aggregates of buildings and people that don’t fit into the context and lack the interstitial tissue to function cohesively. And it end-runs the competitive markets, putting decisions into the hands of politicians with short-term political and financial goals, and engenders corruption, cronyism, and influence-peddling. Eminent domain is bad government and bad business.

As the WSJ reminds us, private development went along very nicely for centuries before politicians decided to take property from one person for the benefit of another. As Stern learned from his Times Square experience, “There was no shortage of developers willing to acquire property the old-fashioned way-through the private market.”

In today’s climate of economic distress, politicians are especially vulnerable to the fear-mongering lobbyists’s argument that we mustn’t lose any tool that could stimulate the economy. But the facts on eminent domain should liberate our elected officials to do the right thing-if that’s what they want to do. They should act now to eliminate private-benefit eminent domain, both by legislation and by constitutional amendment, to get government out of the business of business, let the competitive market determine development, and use scarce public money for real public needs.

The Judiciary Committee just heard several bills that would prohibit eminent domain for other than the traditional public uses-schools, parks, roads, etc. House Bill 1778 in particular serves the purpose well: it contains no “blight” loopholes, and would also prevent eminent domain taking of public land for private use.

Write to your legislators before March 17, the Committee decision date, and tell them to pass H. 1778. More important, tell them to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting private-use eminent domain at the Constitutional Convention scheduled for July 29. Without this amendment, each politically wired developer will simply get a new law passed that allows for a taking s/he wants, “notwithstanding any other laws to the contrary.”

The last word, again from the Wall Street Journal: “If there is a lesson from Connecticut’s misfortune, it is that economic development that relies on the strong arm of government will never be the kind to create sustainable growth.”

Shirley Kressel is a landscape architect and urban designer, and one of the founders of the Alliance of Boston Neighborhoods. She can be reached at Shirley.Kressel@verizon.net

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