I posted recently about the Northern Pass project, a proposed 140-mile long high-power transmission line running through some of New Hampshire’s most beautiful and fragile wilderness.  In that post, I made one extremely brief mention of eminent domain, causing some side conversations, both amusing and alarming, among my friends and I.  Amusing because we all had such different definitions of the term, frightening because we also had drastically different interpretations of the application of it.

Just think of the ambiance a 130 foot tower would add...

The “taking” clause of the 5th amendment merely says that the federal government cannot take your private property for public use without just compensation.  It says nothing about what the government would like to accomplish, or what it thinks is a good idea, or maybe what might help some folks in the future, it merely says public use, just compensation.  Maybe I’m a too-literal kind of guy: School, firehouse, police station, and public park equal public use.  If we assume the clause is vague, we need to be very vigilant about how it’s applied, or more honestly, how it’s abused.  We need to be very careful about determining that “increasing tax revenue” is a public good for which someone should be relived of his or her private property rights.

We certainly remember the case of Kelo vs. the city of New London in 2005.  How five justices of the supreme court of the United States could find an economic development plan to be the basis for a “public good” enabling states to take property for the benefit of a private company defies belief.  In case you were wondering, the town lured Pfizer there by promising to demolish a whole neighborhood next to land that Pfizer was developing for their global R&D headquarters.  The town prevailed, Susette Kelo settled and that was that.  By 2009, Pfizer was gone.  All that economic development never happened.

That’s certainly not the first time this type of corporate welfare has occurred.  Even CBS news, as far back as 2004 had been noting that many municipalities were using eminent domain to transfer property from one private party to another.  The law was never intended for this, no matter the “economic development” or “tax” implications.   How can any plan that forcibly transfers property from one private owner to another ever meet the “public use” standard?  Easy.  Find a statutory definition you like, a couple of real useful idiots in black robes and you’re all set.

Blighted area.  That’s a useful term.  It doesn’t mean what you think.  In many areas of this country, that term can be defined however the local government wishes to define it, and an area is usually considered blighted if it could be used to generate higher sources of tax or other revenue. They applied this in Lakewood Ohio to build upscale condominiums that would generate higher property values, hence higher property taxes.  The criteria for the blight?  Homes that did not have three bedrooms, two baths and attached garages.  Sounds to me like they just condemned every starter home in the country.

Back around to the Northern Pass.  I’m against it because I don’t believe that the jobs it will produce will be anything other than short-term construction jobs, no matter how badly we need them.  I don’t believe it benefits the people of New Hampshire in the long run to be a huge extension cord plugged into the wall of Canada to power Connecticut and Massachusetts.  When I looked into the Northern Pass, I had mentioned to my friends that the minute the local towns and their mayors turned to “It will reduce taxes”, or “we can get additional tax revenue”, one could pretty much assume that this project is a go.  As stated on WMUR: “The city of Franklin stands to gain a 44 percent increase in our tax base,” said Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield. “That’s probably the biggest economic news to ever happen in Franklin.”   This will inevitably lead to a justification for taking land from the current private owners and transferring it to PSNH and Hydro-Quebec.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, the blighted area is theirs for the taking.