EDITORIAL >> Having it both ways
Monday, Gov. Huckabee was wrapping up another three-day swing through Iowa, the first state to engage in presidential selection in 2008. At a news conference, someone asked Huckabee about Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s veto of a bill putting limitations on the condemnation of private property for private economic development. Vilsack is a Democrat and, like Huckabee, a long-shot candidate for president. But he isn’t much of a demagogue.
Huckabee said if he were governor of Iowa he probably would not have vetoed the bill, which he admitted that he had not read. When government takes private property for the benefit of private entities and individuals, Huckabee said, “that is really a threshold that once we cross we have a hard time getting back, and I think there’s a lot of angst I hear about it.”
“I know that is a very sensitive issue in Arkansas and most places,” he continued. “We haven’t had to do anything because we’ve never had a situation that I’m aware of where we’ve taken private property for a private development.”
Maybe not, but contrary to the impression he left in Iowa, Huckabee signed into law legislation to permit exactly that in Arkansas. It was the tax-increment-finance statute.
A 2002 constitutional amendment, supported by the governor, empowers local governments to create redevelopment districts with the goal of creating new jobs and to tap school, city and county property taxes to build infrastruture. The enabling statute signed by the governor explicitly granted local governments condemnation power.
Could the governor have misapprehended the purpose owing to vague language?
The statute says a redevelopment project may take private property, including vacant lots, “for development, redevelopment or rehabilitation by private enterprise. . .” Could a statute be any clearer?
The law has not been used yet to condemn property for private development, but projects are in the works from North Little Rock’s Dark Hollow to Jonesboro and Rogers.
Asa Hutchinson, the nominee of Huckabee’s party to succeed him, has been exploiting the eminent-domain issue with the same finesse. They inveigh against a U. S. Supreme Court decision that said the U.S. Constitution did not prohibit property takings for quasi-public purposes but then signal to developers that it’s really OK in their case.
They don’t want to irritate developers who want to rake off school taxes to build freeway exits to their shopping malls.
It turns out that in politics you really can have it both ways.