Government Takings? What About Givings?
Property-rights advocates have been assured by the new GOP majority that their lands will be safeguarded from overzealous federal and state regulators and environmental ``wackos.'' These property-rights advocates and their allies in the ``wise use'' movement are pinning their dreams on a part of the GOP Contract With America that requires the government to reimburse landowners if any federal regulations reduce the value of their land by more than 10 percent.
One issue that has been ignored amid all of the political hoopla surrounding takings is regulatory givings. That's right: givings. After all, if We The People are going to be required to reimburse anyone whose land value falls by more than 10 percent because of government regulation, we in turn should be fairly compensated whenever government action increases the value of anyone's land by 10 percent or more. After all, fair is fair.
Here's how it would work. The next time the federal government builds a water project, a highway, or a research-and-development facility out in the heartland and local land values skyrocket, the lucky landowners would have to hand over all of the windfall profits to the government, less the 10 percent that We The People would allow them to keep out of the goodness of our hearts. AND why stop there? Agricultural landowners should be required to reimburse the government for increases in their land values due to water and crop subsidies. Mine owners operating on public lands should be forced to share a portion of their lode with the Treasury. Landowners, motel operators, and restaurateurs in and around our national parks should be forced to share their bounty with the government, too. Even municipalities should have to reimburse the federal government for the tax-free status their bonds enjoy - after all, these bonds pay to build schools, hospitals, and parks that increase local property values. On top of all this, there are the real cash cows: businesses who depend entirely on regulatory givings. Take the solid-waste-disposal industry. If it were not for federal solid-waste-disposal and hazardous-waste-management laws, industry giants like Waste Management Inc. and Browning-Ferris would still be small local garbage companies. It's only appropriate that 90 percent of these companies' annual profits be returned to the federal government.
As these examples show, the opportunities for the federal government to be reimbursed for regulatory givings are numerous. Federal regulations can, and often do, confer huge economic benefits on select individuals and companies, financial benefits that We The People silently pay for out of our own pockets. It's time we got our money back.
As Congress begins to debate the takings issue in earnest, it should consider incorporating the idea of regulatory givings into the Contract with America. By doing so, the new Republican majority simultaneously could curtail regulatory takings, lower the budget deficit, and pay for a middle-class tax cut.
After all, Newt Gingrich, a contract is a contract.
Adam Diamant is a public-policy analyst in San Francisco. He specializes in environmental issues. This article originally appeared in the February 24, 1995 issue of the Christian Science Monitor.