02.01.2009 0

Editorial: Back to You, Mr. Jefferson

  • On: 02/19/2009 12:11:55
  • In: Economy
  • “The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.”
    —Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816

    It’s reassuring to know that Americans are still willing to “fight the good fight” for what Thomas Jefferson termed “the true foundation of republican government”: personal property rights.

    The age-old struggle—that which seeks to protect freedom from the likes of repressive governments—has now flared up in one particular county in Arizona. In brief, some residents of Maricopa County are being told their private property rights do not matter. To make the situation worse, the Arizona Legislature is refusing to pay the residents their just and lawful compensation for property the state has damaged, or destroyed.

    Back in 2006, Americans for Limited Government backed and won the battle for Proposition 207, “The Private Property Rights Protection Act,” a measure that guarantees just compensation when property values plummet on account of government laws and regulation. Nearly 65 percent of Arizonans approved the ballot initiative.

    And now, some are fighting to safeguard their rights established under the initiative and to protect “the foundation.”

    According to The Arizona Republic, the Goldwater Institute, a conservative public policy organization, filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of private property owners whose property has suffered serious devaluation due to government-mandated development restrictions. Although enacted ostensibly to protect the adjacent Luke Air Force Base, the zoning regulations have only proven to trample even the most basic rights of the nearby residents.

    Under the lawsuit, 120 property owners are asking for $20 million in compensation because they cannot develop, sell or upgrade their property because of a law passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2004.

    The lawsuit was filed under provisions of the ALG-inspired Proposition 207. Since the provision—and Article 2, Section 17 of the state Constitution, for that matter—“does not permit property to be taken or damaged [by the Arizona government] without just compensation having first been made,” residents are crying “foul.” Carrie Ann Sitren, the organization’s attorney representing the property owners, put it succinctly:

    “The people of Arizona spoke loud and clear when they passed Prop 207 by a two-to-one margin in 2006. If the government takes away the value of someone’s property, the owner must be compensated.”

    Although the Goldwater Institute makes it clear in their press release that they agree with efforts to protect the Air Force Base, they seriously object to government’s wanton theft of private property rights. Under current restrictions, residents cannot install a fence, put in a pool, make repairs on plumbing and electrical work, or do simple renovations.

    The restrictions have taken a significant financial toll on the home owners to the tune of a 50 percent to 95 percent decrease in property values.

    As the local residents exemplify, it is in the American tradition to defend private property rights against authoritarian excess. And the latest skirmish in Maricopa County is no different from the scores before it since the first “shot heard ‘round the world.”

    Filing a lawsuit on behalf of these financially besieged residents was the right thing to do. If the government refuses to remove the zoning restrictions, they need to comply with Proposition 207 and justly compensate the property owners. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

    Either way, the Arizona Legislature owes these effected private residents their property, their land value, and—most importantly—their rights.

    Unfortunately, getting government to willingly relinquish any of its illicitly acquired authority is never easy to do. Sometimes they must be disciplined by the very people they purport to serve.

    And that, as Jefferson said, “is the equal right of every citizen.”

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