Scott links to this informative article about a proposed Florida law that would allow local governments to condemn private land for the sole purpose of making it available to developers. This is a recent and very bad development in U.S. local politics. The proposed law would formalize the until-now casual predatory behavior of local governments which seize land for the benefit of developers and other well connected interest groups. Legislation should forbid this kind of behavior, not codify it.
The article also makes clear that government employees would be one of the main, if not the main interest-group beneficiaries of the proposed law:
Government officials from counties and cities with thousands of small residential lots such as Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres and Charlotte County say the bill is needed to better plan for the future.
Cape Coral City Manager Terry Stewart has been to Tallahassee to lobby for the legislation. He sees a city expanding to more than 400,000 people without enough land designated for the businesses needed to serve that population.
“If we developed all the commercial and industrial land we have today we’d still fall way short of our needs,” he said.
This is really scandalous. One interesting and little discussed fact about the U.S. is that, while national leaders usually pay at least lip service to constitutional rights, many local officials are central-planners with as much zeal as any Soviet commissar and not a lot of concern for individual rights. They tend, like the city manager quoted above, to see their communities as government property to be managed. The problem is becoming more serious because the power wielded by such officials has grown with rising populations and tax bases, and with spending shifts from federal to local government, and because many Americans don’t pay attention to local politics. There’s a lot of ugly stuff going on under the rocks.
The article quotes some local officials who appear to fit into the “commissar” category:
Lehigh Acres officials estimate that they’ll need to nearly double the amount of commercial and industrial land in their community.
Lee County Lands Director Karen Forsyth said the bill gives government the flexibility to acquire and reassemble land into larger tracts for a commercial development that a community may need.
“It’s difficult to plan an area when you have such small lots with so many owners,” she said.
Wayne Daltry, director of Lee County’s Smart Growth initiative, said that Lehigh Acres is the “poster child” for the bill.
Got that? They plan, the citizens just live there. (BTW, note the reference to “Smart Growth.” Where have we seen similar ideas recently?)
The idea that big government can be benign as long as decent people are in charge is false and dangerous. There is always a high cost to be paid for government, though that cost may be hidden, or may not come due for a long time. Keep that in mind the next time someone tries to sell you on the benefits of “compassionate conservatism” or whatever today’s fashionable rationalization for government expansion is. The Founders created a limited government for good reason.