The Real Blight in Montgomery
Thursday, August 26, 2010 4:35 pm | By Cassandra Baker

As if eminent domain – in which the government seizes one’s property and pays what it sees as “just compensation” – wasn’t bad enough, city officials in Montgomery, Ala. have discovered a loophole that allows them to condemn and demolish private residences without compensation, leaving the owner to foot the bill or else face a lien on the property.
Alabama, which took a stand in favor of private property rights five years ago by outlawing eminent domain except for publicly-funded projects, allows exceptions for the seizure of blighted properties. Under the law, buildings can be demolished “due to poor design, obsolescence, or neglect” if they can have an effect on public safety such as mold contamination or are structurally weak and prone to collapse.
This loophole, however, is now being exploited by Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, who is hoping to attract higher-income developers to the city’s famous Civil Rights Trail at the expense of the lower-income families who currently live there. Mayor Strange has said that by condemning these properties, he is cleaning up the city and making the neighborhood safer for all residents, but the citizens who have had their homes destroyed aren’t buying it. Several residents who have had their houses declared “in disrepair” have teamed with the Institute for Justice and are fighting back against the Montgomery City Council to protect their basic right to private property.
If the Montgomery city officials are allowed to decide, willy-nilly, which houses are threats to public safety and which houses are not, who is to say that the government can’t tear down your house simply because someone didn’t like it? Instead of punishing these families for not living up to some arbitrary standard of housing, perhaps the city of Montgomery could take care of the true blight – politicians like Todd Strange who favor the potential of increased revenues over the well-being of his city’s citizens.

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Harry Reid's New Energy Bill is a Property Rights Disaster
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 4:54 pm | By Anthony Lizan

The hits keep coming from Harry Reid. His new energy bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act of 2010 (S. 3663), is a property rights disaster in the making. The act would provide a perpetual, and wholly unnecessary, source of funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund, which is used to pay for government land grabs. Currently, the $900 million allocated to the fund yearly must be appropriated by Congress. If Reid gets his way, “amounts shall be made available from the fund without further appropriation.”

Without Congressional expenditure approval, Reid’s bill would leave the door wide open for further spending abuse, something that happens often within the federal government. The Heritage Foundation notes,

“Reid’s bill would fill the fund with a minimum of just under $5 billion through fiscal year 2016. Spending these funds would no longer require congressional approval. Between fiscal year (FY) 2017 and FY 2020, all LWCF funding—without fiscal year limitation—would be subject to appropriations. For FY 2021 and beyond, the LWCF pot would be filled with a minimum of a half billon annually and, again, evade congressional approval.”

Allowing federal agencies to spend more without oversight, smacks in the face the promise of transparency and accountability made by the Administration. Moreover, at a time when the budget deficit and national debt are gargantuan, increasing spending—especially on property expropriation—makes no sense. With estimated $9.6 billion maintenance backlog, further spending will only burden the National Park Service, and more importantly—the taxpayers.

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Point of Sale Display Bans: Wrong Way to Deter Smoking
Friday, July 30, 2010 2:45 pm | By Anthony Lizan

A new report published in the Journal of Pediatrics has big government regulators excited. The report states that point of sale displays (POSD) of tobacco products increase teenage smoking. The main researcher, Lisa Henriksen PhD, recommends banning these displays outright. What Dr. Henriksen and the spate of news articles announcing her findings fail to realize, is that a POSD ban would pose a serious threat to both intellectual and physical property.

Trademarks allow companies to differentiate their products in the market, and give individuals the information needed to make informed choices when purchasing goods. They signal a level of brand quality that consumers can trust. This relationship between retailers and buyers is the bedrock of our modern economy. By denying tobacco companies the ability to display their trademarks, a POSD ban would be a flagrant infringement on intellectual property rights. What is the point of having a trademark if no one can see it?

A ban would also impose burdensome regulations on private businesses. Since Cigarette companies are banned from advertising over the airwaves, they devote 90% of their marketing budgets on point of sale displays. A ban would severely hurt these companies, potentially leading to massive job losses.

Moreover, while it’s likely the goal of anti-tobacco interests to hurt cigarette companies economically, they’re forgetting that small businesses would also be affected. Many POSDs are located in small convenience stores, groceries, and gas stations. A ban would deter business from these stores as well, further hampering our economy at a time we can least afford it.

While it may be true that smoking displays increase the likelihood of teenage smoking, deterring bad behavior by infringing upon property rights should never be an option.

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