Finally Some Good News

Bill Neinast

Finally some good news for the county.  After hundreds of job losses from four local companies, the abandonment of plans to build a race track in the county headlines the news.  

The best part of the good news is that government intervention did not kill the track.  Widespread opposition and civil litigation seems to have won the day.

A worrisome part of the opposition, however, was the effort to get the government to step in and tell the landowner, “You cannot do that on your property.”

After the County Judge and commissioners pointed out repeatedly that there was no legal authority for them to prohibit building the facility, opponents criticized them for “doing nothing” and noted that “they would soon be up for re-election.”

My home is too far away from the proposed facility to have been bothered by noise and air pollution from racing there.  Nonetheless, I was as concerned about having such a facility in the county as those living next to the site.

Some vocal opponents of the race track noted that the government could keep a neighbor from having a hog farm on his property.  So why couldn’t that neighbor be stopped from building a race track in place of the hog farm?

That statement was based on a wrong premise.  The government cannot prevent hog farms.  It can, however, enforce laws and regulations that require hog farmers not to pollute public waters with waste and to keep air emissions within limits.

Recourse for neighbors of the hog farmer would be through law suits for injunctive and punitive relief resulting from the reduction in value of their property.

Their concern, however, would not support a demand for the government to prohibit the construction of the race track.

Historically, the government’s power over private property is limited.  Through eminent domain, it can force an owner to sell his property to the government for public purposes.   It can also assess the value of private property and collect taxes on that value. 

Unfortunately, governmental power in any form can be perverted.  Consider eminent domain as an example.  

Some municipalities have exercised their eminent domain powers to acquire private residences for resale to commercial developers.  The confiscation was upheld in the courts because the changes in ownership increased the tax base and that was a general purpose.

So here’s the pespective.

Be careful what you ask for.  Frequently the unanticipated consequences of an answer are much worse than the problem that prompted the request.

If the government were granted the power to tell a land owner he could not have a race track on his property, what would be next?  Could a landowner be told he could not build a barn or camp house that might interfere with the bucolic view of his neighbors?   

The government likes power.  Give it just a little and it can and will be expanded.

Remember the federal income tax that began as a 1% rate on less than 1% of the population.  And remember eminent domain that was intended to provide access to property for roads, public buildings, etc., but is now used to confiscate homes to be converted to commercial apartments.

Is anyone willing to go down that road of giving the government more power?  


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