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May 3, 2006
Hizzoner Likes Eminent Domain

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a man who became a billionaire through the free-market trading of private property, has decided that he likes having the ability to confiscate it from other people now that he's in office. He escalated his campaign to stop Congress and the New York legislature from imposing stricter limits on the use of eminent doman after the dreadful Kelo decision last year:

Mayor Bloomberg is stepping up his campaign to prevent lawmakers in Albany and Washington from restricting the city's power to seize private property for redevelopment.

In recent weeks, Mr. Bloomberg has traveled to Washington to meet with members of Congress on the issue. He also convened a group of 100 Manhattan-based political donors for a lunch at which he handed out a wallet card of priorities, including "Eminent Domain - Oppose legislation that would cripple affordable housing and responsible re-development (like Times Square)."

Yesterday, he brought the campaign to an event in the Times Square neighborhood, which he argues couldn't have been cleaned up without eminent domain power - a portrayal challenged by some critics.

It's interesting that Bloomberg used the Times Square example. No one doubts the effect that the makeover had on the storied area, and on Mahattan as a whole. However, take a look at who now resides in that spot: corporations like Disney, Virgin, and so on. Why should government inject themselves into a transfer of property from one private owner to another -- and why should they be allowed to determine when the sale would take place?

If cities want to expedite the kind of transformation that Bloomberg desires, they have other means with which to achieve it. Cities can use tax incentives to revitalize an area and to convince both buyers and sellers to conclude deals in everyone's interests. Bloomberg can also use zoning regulations to prod less flexible owners into action. If the businesses in the area create crime and stagnation, as was the case for Times Square, get the city's elected officials to pass tighter legislation on how those businesses operate in order to either clean up the problem or convince the businesses to relocate.

The confiscatory power of government should only be used for truly public projects, not to turn over prime real estate to private parties who cannot convince the current owners to sell. If the government has the power to turn people out of their businesses and homes (remember, Kelo involved houses that had been around for over a hundred years) simply because the government deems the property to be insufficiently profitable under current ownership, then no one's home or business is safe from government seizure. Congress and the New York legislature have worked to ensure that rational limits exist to eminent domain, in response to the justifiable outrage over Kelo. It's unfortunate that Mayor Bloomberg has signed up as a confiscator rather than a defender of private property -- and given the nature of his fortune, it's not just unfortunate, it's hypocritical.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 3, 2006 6:36 AM

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