Government should not abuse eminent domain power
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Wednesday 29 September 2010 4:19 PM

From Cincinnati.com

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City Council recently designated the Gamble House as historically significant after the owner requested a demolition permit. But the city cannot force the owner to invest in or restore the property. Because the owner, the Greenacres Foundation, will not sell to the Cincinnati Preservation Association or anyone else, the city’s options are limited to either allowing the property to deteriorate or to accepting the proposal made by the owner to invest $5 million of private resources to create an outdoor education facility and greenspace.

Another option was proposed this week: Exercise the government’s power of eminent domain to forcibly take the Gamble House.

Eminent domain is an extraordinary power that allows government to trump individual property rights in favor of a public purpose. The public purpose is generally related to roads, utilities and similar infrastructure needs. The power has been abused by government in the past, including a recent local example when Norwood attempted, and the Supreme Court rejected, the taking of homes across the street from the Rookwood Pavilion to facilitate a commercial development.

Preserving the Gamble House is about preserving the legacy of James N. Gamble, son of one of the founders of Procter & Gamble, and his civic and philanthropic contributions to the Queen City. To that end, the owner’s intention for the use of the property should be considered before government steps in and usurps the property.

Greenacres’ plan includes programs for environmental and sustainability education; greenspace for outdoor play; an educational greenhouse; preservation of outbuildings and caretaker facilities; and an endowment to ensure the property can be enjoyed for generations. All of this would be done without a single tax dollar. To lose the main house would be disappointing, but the property can still be a great community asset while honoring the contributions of the Gamble family.

The alternative – using eminent domain – means taxpayer dollars to litigate, purchase and restore the property, and ongoing operating costs. The historic designation process used by the city is questionable, making the eminent domain case a risk. The goodwill and gift of $5 million from Greenacres would be lost. The best choice we can make now is collaboration, not threats of eminent domain, in order to make the best of this situation.

Eminent domain petition launched
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Monday 27 September 2010 11:20 AM

From The Texas Farm Buearu

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Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke joined Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and a host of state leaders on the south steps of the State Capitol Thursday, Sept. 16, to launch an online petition drive for continued eminent domain reform.

“Protecting our private property rights is a priority issue for the members of the Texas Farm Bureau,” Dierschke said. “Thank you, Commissioner Staples, for your leadership on this issue and for spearheading this very important petition drive.”

Staples says the online petition, www.protectyourhomeandland.com

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, will demonstrate to state representatives Texans’ strong support of further work to protect private property rights.

“As Texas grows, we must not allow a single property owner to be taken advantage of in the condemnation process,” Staples said. “That is why today I’m asking all Texans to sign the petition and help me deliver the message to the legislature that we must have eminent domain reform.”

In 2009, TFB worked with Staples to pass Proposition 11, a constitutional amendment that ensured private land could not be taken for economic development or tax revenues. Texans approved it with an 81 percent vote.

“But Proposition 11 was only the first step. Now is the time to finish the job,” Dierschke said. “We hope the Texas Legislature will take a serious look at this petition and realize that more needs to be done.”

Landowners concerned over gas companies
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Tuesday 21 September 2010 8:59 AM

From The Standard Speaker

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HARRISBURG – Landowners concerned about the possibility of losing control of local zoning and personal property rights to natural gas companies gathered at the state capitol building last Tuesday for a press conference followed by a visit to legislative leaders.

The specific targets are forced pooling and zoning exemptions for the natural gas industry. Gas companies are lobbying for both in exchange for a severance tax on gas extraction, which the state Legislature is considering for a vote on Oct. 1.

Forced pooling, also called “conservation pooling,” is when natural gas drillers can force holdout landowners to lease if they are part of a drilling block. Zoning exemption means natural gas companies would not need to go through local planning or zoning hearings for gas wells because they would be considered an allowed use under the zoning ordinance.

“We keep hearing legislators talk about giving away our property rights and our municipal rights in exchange for taxes,” Leslie Avakian of Greenfield Township, Lackawanna County, said. “It violates our Pennsylvania constitutional rights to acquire, possess and protect our own property.”

Forced pooling affects Republicans, Democrats and anti-drilling and pro-drilling people alike, Avakian said.

“This is really bad for everybody,” she said.

On the Capitol steps before the conference, activist Gene Stilp enlisted the aid of some European tourists and natural gas drilling awareness group members to help set up a 25-foot-tall inflatable Liberty Bell with the slogan “Forced pooling violates our U.S. property rights.”

“This subterranean eminent domain is something every Pennsylvanian will realize is a violation of their constitutional rights,” Stilp said.

Duke Barrett of Dallas said a severance tax should not be linked in any way to forced pooling or zoning exemption. The gas companies want forced pooling to get prime landowners who might not want to lease, he said.

“Gas companies are showing their contempt for property rights,” Barrett said. “They only care for the golden calf of profits over people.”

Sullivan County resident John Trallo of the Responsible Drilling Alliance also said forced pooling is not in the public interest.

“Why would they negotiate if the gas company knows they’re going to get it anyway?” he said.

Kingston resident Paula Chaiken worries about forced pooling because the camp in Lehman Township that her three sons attend is surrounded by land leased to natural gas companies. About 400 children attend the camp, including 50 with autism and other special needs, she said.

“Even my 4-year-old Teddy learned basic consideration,” Chaiken said. “Unlike forced pooling proponents, my 4-year-old knows ‘no means no’ when it comes to someone else’s property.”

Zoning ordinances are designed specifically to protect residents’ quality of life and safety, and are written with forethought and planning by taxpayers, Janine Dymond of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition said.

“No industry should have the right to negate these,” she said.

The speakers urged residents to lobby their legislators. They also decided to drop in on House and Senate leaders to find out where they stand on the subject, as there are only nine days left in this legislation session.

The first stop was in the office of House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township. He was on the floor at the time, but his aides assured the residents that at least in the House form of the severance tax bill, forced pooling and zoning exemption would not be included.

Eachus later confirmed that the House bill “would not include those issues.” The severance tax focus is on protecting the water supply and the environment, and ensuring local communities affected by natural gas drilling get their fair share, he said. House members are working on reaching a consensus on the bill, he said.

However, the Republican-controlled Senate’s version of the bill could be a different story. Eachus said the public should “have a heightened sense of awareness.”

The Senate was not in session Tuesday, so its leaders weren’t in their offices.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester County, was out of town, and his staffers who handle Marcellus Shale-related issues were not in either.

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, was also unavailable, but his director of policy and legislative affairs, Casey Long, spoke with residents.

He said Scarnati has not made a stand on forced pooling, and is working with local government organizations – Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, Pennsylvania State Boroughs Association and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania – on the zoning issue.

Before leaving, the residents dropped by the office of Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and were immediately told by her spokeswoman Maggie Giannelli that the senator strongly opposes forced pooling.

“That’s the first straight answer we heard all day,” Bradford County resident Suellen Howard said.

Time for Federal Term Limits
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Monday 20 September 2010 3:25 PM

From TheTownTalk.com

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The title of this opinion piece relates to both a chronological mark in our history and as an essential subject for us all to consider. On Feb. 27, 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted. This amendment limited a person’s elected terms of presidency to two, four-year terms for a total of eight years. This action restored the tradition established by George Washington and endorsed for nearly 150 years by his successors until Franklin Roosevelt was elected to four, four-year terms for a total of 16 years. He did not make it through his fourth term, but it was decided by Congress (and the people) that 16 and even 12 years was too much for one person to serve as president.

The time is now to limit the number of terms for U.S. senators and representatives not to exceed 12 years (six terms for representatives and two terms for senators) for the same reasons the presidential terms were limited.

Our country enjoys a huge pool of able and patriotic talent for these 535 offices, and we deserve to have access to as many of these people as possible. To further this access, a person serving in one chamber (representative or senate) could not serve in the other chamber. Running for president or vice president would be acceptable and appointments as cabinet members could also be approved. Further enhancements are required as well.

The political campaigning for office would be limited to just eight weeks before election day. The use of private funding or contributions from any source to candidates would be against the law. This would also apply to the use of the candidate’s personal wealth. Campaign funding would be provided equally among all candidates from a fund generated by a small percentage increase to prevailing income tax rates. Private individuals, companies and lobbyists would be encouraged to contribute to this fund as their patriotic duty, but the contents would be equally distributed to all the candidates. Somehow in our history we have come to admire wealth and money raising capability of political candidates as the best qualifications to be elected.

Just recently, and as an example, candidates in California and Arizona spent more than $20 million each to win a primary election. This is buying votes; this is nearly dishonest, almost cynical and certainly not intended by our founders. It hurts us all. We can only speculate how many worthy candidates can’t even try to serve, due the lack of money and the stomach to buy votes.

Another necessary reform would eliminate the seniority privileges used in our Congressional chambers. People holding on to these chairmanships unfairly end up with more influence than we the people award them via our vote. Districts gaining unfair advantages to the expense of others are often gleeful, but it’s contrary to how our government was intended to be by the founders and necessary to our well being as a nation. Representatives are distributed to states based upon their population. Each and every state has two senators with equal representation rights intended. The seniority/chairmanship customs give more authority than intended by our founders to such individuals with seniority.

Under the foregoing proposals consider these advantages:

1. Candidates would have more time in office to do the people’s business by not having to campaign so long and to make so many compromises in exchange for money to buy votes.

2. More worthy people would serve.

3. We could trust and admire our Representatives and Senators more than we do now.

4. The taint of money grubbing would be removed from their elective process.

5. The intended equitable representation process by our country’s founders would be attained.

It would be tough to get the required Constitutional amendment(s) to do the foregoing, especially when it’s like asking the foxes guarding the henhouse to voluntarily limit their appetite for all those free chicken dinners, but we really do need these reforms.

Bill Boles lives in Woodworth.

Should members of Congress have term limits?
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Monday 20 September 2010 8:56 AM

From NBC News

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With over 70 percent of voters saying that they disapprove of the job Congress is doing, it’s not surprising that many of them are itching to “throw out the bums,” as GOP Sen. Jim DeMint put it on NBC’s TODAY Show this morning.

But many Americans (including many First Read commenters during this week’s “Exit Interviews” series on the United States Senate) believe that it shouldn’t take an electoral defeat to show members of Congress the door.

They advocate for term limits that would cap the number of years lawmakers can serve on Capitol Hill.

The average length of service for senators this Congress is 12.8 years, just over two terms. It’s a full term longer for the senators who are leaving the chamber at the end of this year. The average length of service of the elected senators who are retiring or who were voted out this year (not including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who will announce whether or not she will mount a write-in candidacy tomorrow) is 18.8 years.

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback is retiring this year because he limited himself to serving only two full terms. He believes that all senators should follow his example.

“You can find 100 competent people to do these jobs year in, year out,” said the Kansas lawmaker in his exit interview with NBC News. “And you ought to have a change of blood and a change of ideas.”

Brownback believes that, as senators serve longer, power is consolidated in fewer hands and over time creates a more partisan Congress.

Last year, Brownback joined Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas in proposing an amendment that would cap Senate service at two terms. (Hutchison is currently serving her third term, having failed to win the Republican nomination for governor in her home state in March.)

Term limits are gaining steam as a campaign issue as well. Several successful Tea Party candidates – including Colorado’s Ken Buck, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell – supported the idea during their primary campaigns.

It’s a popular idea. A recent FOX News poll found that almost eight in 10 registered voters said they would like to see a cap put on how long members of Congress can serve.

Brownback, who’s now running for Kansas governor, also wants term limits for Supreme Court justices. Members of the high court have served lifetime appointments since the nation’s founding.

Either suggestion presents a steep climb for would-be reformers. Implementing term limits for either senators or justices would mean a constitutional amendment – which would require either a national constitutional convention or the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress.

Bashing Boehner: the Times does Obama’s bidding
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Posted by admin | Columns
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| Friday 17 September 2010 10:16 AM

By giving the administration of Barack Obama a front-page forum to bash House Minority Leader John Boehner last weekend, The New York Times is once again proving that it cannot resist doing the “hope and change” crowd’s dirty laundry.

“A GOP Leader Tightly Bound to Lobbyists,” the paper’s September 12 headline screamed boldly, bashing Boehner for being connected to special interests that “contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign.”

Assuming that wasn’t sufficiently subtle, the paper also described Boehner as a “perpetually tanned, sharply tailored, chain-smoking golfer.”

The Times smear on Boehner is straight out of the left-wing playbook — a slash-and-burn mode of divisive political demonization that Obama claims to be “above” but one that legacy media outlets (particularly the Times) are all-too familiar with.

Their shared objective is painfully obvious — to create a convenient enemy for Obama at a time when growing numbers of Americans are losing faith in his “leadership.” In Boehner, they have simply gone to Republican central casting and picked out a suitable antagonist to saddle with their decades-old class warfare rhetoric. Rather than accepting responsibility for their failed economic policies, Obama’s team is using the Times to manufacture a “villain” upon whom they can blame the nation’s ongoing economic malaise — which has been Obama’s responsibility for the last twenty months (and even longer if you count his support for the failed interventionist policies of former president George W. Bush).

Yet amid news of record poverty increases, increasing unemployment, deteriorating consumer confidence and global economic uncertainty — Obama’s definition of “hope and change” is now coming full circle.

The “stimulus” didn’t work. Blaming Bush didn’t work. Now it is Boehner’s turn to be castigated by the same president who stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in January of 2009 and proclaimed “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

Far from denouncing “petty grievances” and “recriminations,” however, Obama is now aggressively employing them via the same old attention-diverting, blame-shifting tactics that Washington politicians of both parties have used for decades.

“White House surrogates spent the weekend highlighting a New York Times piece detailing (Boehner’s) ties to lobbyists,” wrote Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post two days after the story was posted.

Not only is the White House leading the attack through the media, the Obama administration is publicly patting itself on the back for a job well done.

“I think that, yes, it has been successful,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said of the strategy behind attacking Boehner.

Clearly Republicans in Washington — Boehner included — share much of the blame for our nation’s deteriorating economic and financial prognosis. But rather than correct the failed policies of the past (unsustainable government growth, expanded government regulation, excessive government spending), Obama has put these same policies on steroids.

On the next page: what the Times’ article conveniently failed to mention

Also, in using the Times to dish his dirt, Obama and his allies conveniently ignore the fact that 45 current or recently-departed Democratic members of Congress — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — have received more money from lobbyists during the current election cycle than Boehner. They also conveniently ignore the fact that Pelosi frequently uses a taxpayer-funded Gulfstream jet to travel around the globe — or that in her taxpayer-funded travels she has rung up a massive $101,000 tab for in-flight food and liquor over a two-year period.

Of course the Times wasn’t about to put Boehner’s “tightness” with lobbyists into any sort of perspective, because that would have undercut the very foundation of the attack. Such “journalism” is grossly unfair — and something we should bear in mind whenever the legacy media attempts to claim the mantle of objectivity.

In prostrating itself at the behest of a desperate administration, the Times is showing itself to be nothing more than a willing tool of a failed president who is grasping for excuses, not solutions.

And while the jury is out on whether John Boehner deserves better, the American people certainly do.

School Choice Missing In Obama’s Address
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Thursday 16 September 2010 9:16 AM

From Fox News

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Students and teachers at Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School began the school year with the ultimate back-to-school pep rally on Tuesday. President Obama delivered a speech to students at the highly-ranked Philadelphia magnet school, which was named a 2010 national “Blue Ribbon School.”

Last year, the president delivered a back-to-school speech about the importance of staying in school and the merits of education, topics he reprised in this year’s address. Last year’s protocol included a letter from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to schools nationwide, complete with lesson plans for teachers. Of course, the lesson plans created a firestorm of backlash from critics, and we haven’t seen a repeat this year.
Even absent federally-crafted lesson plans, however, the Obama administration’s larger plans for reshaping the country’s education system are worrisome. In fact, if the administration has its way, schools across the country will soon be required to teach according to a set of national education standards and tests.

National standards and tests would be a significant federal overreach into states’ educational decision-making authority. But through the administration’s $4.35 million “Race to the Top” competitive grant program, which provided grants to 11 states and the District of Columbia to implement prescribed education reforms, states have already begun adopting national standards.

To be in contention for a Race to the Top grant, states had to indicate that they would move toward adopting national standards and tests. And with most states facing severe budget shortfalls, the chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars in new grant money was enough for many to sign on to the proposal.

But several states have refused to sign on to the standards, which were developed by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. But for the states not enticed by a RTT grant, the administration has indicated that they will tie access to Title I money for low-income schools to adoption of the standards.

If they succeed, the administration will have orchestrated a significant federal overreach into what is taught in local schools. They will have done so without a single vote in Congress, bypassing normal legislative procedure, and without input from parents and taxpayers.

If national standards and tests become reality, parents will lose one of their most powerful tools when it comes to directing their children’s education: local and state control over academic content and standards. As if a distant bureaucrat in Washington knows what’s best for — or is significantly vested in — the educational well-being of individual students.

The kind of data national standards and tests will make available will be far more useful to bureaucrats than to parents. What parents need most is transparency about all the existent data that’s collected, and, most importantly, the power to act on it.

We won’t gain educational opportunity and accountability by further centralizing educational power in Washington. This has been the trend for the past four decades, with little if anything to show for it. Despite decades of increasing federal control over education and a tripling of per-pupil expenditures, reading achievement has flat-lined, and graduation rates are the same today as they were in 1970.

If the president were truly interested in raising academic achievement and providing educational opportunity, he would have told students today how he plans to empower their parents to make the educational decisions that will lead to a future full of opportunity.

Sadly, President Obama’s track record thus far on school choice is dismal. He is phasing out the most successful school voucher program in the country — the D.C. Opportunity scholarship Program — because powerful special-interest groups, such as teachers’ unions, oppose it. For scholarship students in Washington, D.C., listening to the president’s speech may well have been a painful reminder that in most parts of the country, school choice is still an option only for those who can afford it.

The administration certainly deserves credit this year for encouraging states to lift caps on charter schools and to have open discussions about merit pay and tenure reform. But for those students in Philadelphia, and across the country, not lucky enough to enroll in a Blue Ribbon school (such as the one where Mr. Obama made his speech), the best back-to-school message they could hear would be one that encourages equal opportunity through school choice.

Lindsey M. Burke is an education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

Senator seeks to reform state’s eminent domain laws
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Monday 13 September 2010 5:41 PM

From The Wisconsin Law Journal

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When it comes to use of the state’s eminent domain laws, one man’s blight can be another man’s beauty.

“It’s a lot like looking at the Mona Lisa,” said Niebler, Pyzyk, Roth & Carrig attorney Robert W. Roth. “These laws are really in the eye of beholder.”

But Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, is looking to remove the subjectivity involved when municipalities deem property blighted in the name of commerce.

She argued that the current laws are both broad and confusing when it comes to a clear definition of blight.

Specifically, Lazich took issue with language in Wisconsin’s General Municipality Law (Wis. Stat. 66.1333(2m)(b)3), which in part, defines a blighted area as one which “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community.”

“That is so broad that the Taj Mahal would probably fall into that definition,” she said.

Blight is also defined in Chapter 32 of the state’s eminent domain statutes, but the language primarily relates to residential properties that are abandoned or dilapidated.

Earlier this year, the City of Greenfield planned to use its eminent domain powers to acquire several operating business properties as part of a redevelopment plan along Loomis Road and Interstate 894.

But property owners fought the move and in August, the city put the redevelopment plans on hold.

In June, a groundswell of public criticism prompted Oak Creek to abandon its plan to acquire the 25-acre farm of 94-year-old Earl Giefer as part of a development plan.

A clearer definition of blight could prevent a repeat of the situations in Greenfield and Oak Creek, suggested Jason Adkins, staff attorney in the Minnesota Chapter of the Institute for Justice.

He represented property owners in the U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), which prompted eminent domain reform in 42 states, including Wisconsin.

In the wake of the decision, the state instituted a ban on transfers of non-blighted property from one private party to another and also prohibited false blight determinations on residential properties, unless abandoned.

“The key is ensuring that cities cannot use blight as a pretext for doing old-style redevelopment takings,” said Adkins. “Right now you have cities testing eminent domain power and the ambiguity in Wisconsin law has allowed them to do so.”

While public opposition put an end to the situations in Oak Creek and Greenfield, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren real estate litigator John M. Van Lieshout suggested that eventually, municipalities will push back.

If that happens, it may be up to a judge to interpret the meaning of blight.

“It could be a place like Wauwatosa or Hartford which wants to condemn land for the high speed rail,” Van Lieshout said. “Even if people oppose it, that situation is certainly a candidate for bare-knuckle boxing where nobody backs down.”

Historically, Van Lieshout said courts tend to favor municipalities in eminent domain cases in which officials argue that takings tied to development will increase the tax base or create more jobs.

But Roth said allowing cities to condemn someone’s current use of their property simply because of the way it looks is “a little rough.”

“A narrow definition would be more protective of individual property rights and those are right at the core of our constitutional freedoms,” he said.

Lazich, whose constituency includes Greenfield residents, agreed that the law needs to be clearer to provide security for property owners.

As it is, she said “clearly, they would not have the law on their side.”

“If businesses and property owners can be scooped up and swallowed so easily, then there is a problem with the law,” said Lazich, who plans to introduce legislation to clarify the statutes in early 2011.

The real cost of public education
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Friday 10 September 2010 4:00 PM

From The Suffolk News-Herald

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We’ve been treated to hand wringing all year over the school budgets for this fall, which are supposedly inadequate, under funded, unacceptable. But what you think you know about K-12 education spending is wrong; we’re not spending too little, we’re wasting too much.

I’d like you to guess how much we spend per child in Suffolk public schools and then in the state of Virginia overall. Have the number?

How does it match with the real numbers? Suffolk spent about $11,800 per student in 2009. And across the state we spent on average over $13,000 to educate one child for the school year.

Don’t feel silly if you guessed far lower than the real figure. According to a December 2009 poll of Virginians by the Friedman Foundation, nearly half of the respondents thought we spend $6,000 or less to educate a child each year. About one in five people thought we spend less than $3,000. Only 6 percent of the public guessed in the right spending range.

It’s so simple as to seem trivial. To get control of a budget, you need to know how much you make, how much you spend, and what you’re spending it on. We know that K–12 education is the biggest single cost to state and local governments, eating up close to a third of their revenues. And yet most citizens and politicians have little or no idea how much we are spending on education at a per-pupil level.

American taxpayers spend around $600 billion a year on K-12 public education. A sobering 27 cents of every tax dollar collected at the state or local level is consumed by the government-run K–12 education system, compared to only 8 cents for Medicaid.

In Virginia, 29 cents out of every state or local tax dollar collected is spent on public K-12 education. In the seven years between 2002 and 2009, per-pupil spending in Virginia increased 44 percent, according to state data. When we account for inflation, it’s increased a 21 percent.

And these figures leave out a large but completely unknown amount of capital expenses and debt payments that cities and counties spend on behalf of public schools but which never make it onto the school district books or into the state’s accounting.

Education spending is the single most serious burden on state and local budgets. And since runaway education spending is a major cause of our state and local budget problems, it’s the best place to look for serious savings as this fiscal crisis continues to unfold.

But school district officials and many politicians aren’t upfront about the kinds of resources we devote to education. And without a clear idea of spending levels in public and private schools, it’s hard for the public and policymakers to know whether the current system is cost-effective or to assess the fiscal impact of expanding families’ options with private school choice programs.

Based on federal data we estimate the typical private school in Virginia charges just under $7,000, and many far less. Government schools, at $13,000, spend a whopping 88 percent more. Private school choice programs, in other words, aren’t just a proven way to increase student achievement; they are a great way to save a huge amount of money.

In Florida, for instance, the state’s education tax credit program that funds private school choice saves huge sums every year. The state gains $1.49 in savings for every $1 it loses in tax revenue according to a 2008 fiscal impact analysis by the government’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability. That’s one reason almost every Republican, 42 percent of Democrats, and more than half of the black caucus voted for a dramatic expansion of the education tax credit program.

We spend more than enough on K-12 education in Virginia. It’s just not being spent effectively. Virginia’s children, families and taxpayers deserve a better, more efficient system of education.

Adam B. Schaeffer, Ph.D., is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and author of the March 2010 Cato Institute paper, “They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools.” Contact him at ASchaeffer@cato.org.

Morning Bell: Half-Billion Dollar Schools Can’t Fix American Education
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Posted by admin | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Friday 10 September 2010 2:21 PM

From The Heritage Foundation

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At $578 million, the Robert F. Kennedy School in Los Angeles is the most expensive public school ever built in America. It features a high-tech swimming pool, a chic auditorium, vaulted ceilings, luxury amenities and a design aesthetic worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest. ABC News reports that the school is more expensive than the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing, China, built for the 2008 Olympics, and the Wall Street Journal notes that it cost more than L.A.’s Staples sports center.

And while a half-billion dollar public school complex would be jarring enough to taxpayers during plush budget times, this public school was constructed at a time when the district faces a $640 million deficit. It’s a red carpet reminder of why California – and so many other states – face severe budget shortfalls.

But Joe Agron, the editor-in-chief of the school construction publication American School & University, said that “Districts want a showpiece for the community, a really impressive environment for learning.” When asked by the Wall Street Journal whether the school’s plush amenities and architectural flourishes were necessary, Thomas Rubin, a consultant for Los Angeles’ bond oversight committee, was blunt: “Did we have to do that? Hell no. But there’s no accounting for taste,” Rubin stated.

But it’s neither “impressive environments” nor good taste that will raise academic achievement, boost graduation rates or cultivate a thirst for learning. Nor is it half-billion dollar school complexes. In fact, many very low-performing school districts throughout the country spend tremendous amounts of taxpayer resources on public school facilities and have hefty per-pupil expenditures. In Los Angeles, conservative estimates put per-pupil spending in excess of $11,000; other estimates put the figure closer to $30,000 per-pupil. Yet just 15 percent of 8th grade students are proficient in reading and less than half of students graduate high school. The WSJ notes:

The K-12 complex isn’t merely an overwrought paean to the nation’s most celebrated liberal political family. It’s a jarring reminder that money doesn’t guarantee success—though it certainly beautifies failure.”

Unfortunately, the profligate spending on the Robert F. Kennedy public school isn’t an isolated case. Los Angeles taxpayers are also on the hook for a $232 million Visual and Performing Arts High School as well as the $377 million Edward Roybal Learning Center.

While these schools were constructed in part using $20 billion in bonds approved by Los Angeles residents, the spend now, pay later mentality permeating a public education sector dominated by special interest groups has been bolstered by continual federal bailouts courtesy of the Obama administration.

These federal bailouts – $100 billion in new money given to the Department of Education through last year’s “stimulus” followed by another $10 billion teacher union bailout this August – prevent states from making the long-term budgetary decisions necessary to ease the burden on taxpayers and create systemic education reforms. What’s needed are meaningful reforms such as those spearheaded by Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who capped spending on school construction by placing a moratorium on new school bond measures. Governor Daniels explained his decision to the Weekly Standard:

When we were first campaigning, I started to notice, we’d drive through these rural counties, these very poor counties, and we’d drive up over a hill and on the other side you’d see a brand-new high school that looked like Frank Lloyd Wright had just been there. Enormous gold-plated buildings. It turned out we had higher capital expenditures for educational construction per square foot than any other state. There’d be a bond issue and then the architects and contractors would run amok, spending money on things that had nothing to do with academics. I understand why it happens. The school board likes it because they get to play designer for a year. But we couldn’t afford it.”

Expensive school buildings and staggering per-pupil spending won’t improve education in low-performing school districts such as Los Angeles. The district may have just spent $578 million on a public school, but if it produces the same poor results that have defined public education in many school districts across the country, would parents choose to send their children there?

It’s a safe bet to say that given the choice between luxury amenities and literacy, most parents would choose the latter. That is why students are far better served by policies that empower parents to choose a school that best meets their child’s needs, not policies that perpetuate the failed status quo of throwing more scarce taxpayer resources into the monolithic public school system.

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