On behalf of the 350,000 nationwide members of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and the more than 16,000 members in Pennsylvania, I urge you to pass S.B. 881 in its current form and free of amendments that weaken its strong protections of property rights in the state. The United States Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London sparked widespread outrage among Americans of all walks of life when it ruled that state and local governments can use their power to transfer property from one private party to another as long as government officials have a "plan" and believe there will be some economic benefit from the taking.
In its decision, the Court interpreted the United States Constitution's Fifth Amendment protection against the "taking of private property for public use without just compensation" to mean that any property could be taken for any use as long as compensation is provided. While unfortunate and wrongheaded, the decision explicitly left the door open for state action. In fact, the Court's ruling explicitly stated that states may choose to provide property owners with greater protections than those afforded under current law.
It must be noted that advocates of property rights restoration, such as NTU, are not reflexively opposed to eminent domain being used for truly public purposes and that S.B. 881 is far from "radical" in its restrictions on eminent domain. In fact, the bill would simply restore basic property rights while still allowing governments to exercise eminent domain for traditional public services like roads, schools, and post offices. Utilities and those who need eminent domain for genuinely "public" purposes will still have such powers, and local governments will still be able to obtain properties that are objective threats to public health and safety.
The problem of local governments using eminent domain powers for the benefit of well-connected, private interests is widespread, but it is especially acute in Pennsylvania. In fact, the publication Public Power: Private Gain, which was compiled by the Castle Coalition to outline some of the most egregious abuses of eminent domain abuse in the United States, called Pennsylvania a "hotbed of eminent domain controversy."
Property rights are the basis upon which free societies depend. For the good of your citizens and the long-term economic health of your state, I urge you to support the strong protections against eminent domain abuse contained in S.B. 881. Please contact me at 703-683-5700 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions on this important matter.
Paul J. Gessing
Director of Government Affairs