USFlag THE HAMPTON ROADS
FREEDOM NEWS


March, 2007
A VICTORY FOR LIBERTY
VaCapitol         It was fifty-three years ago in the case of Parker v. Berman that the United States Supreme Court corrupted the long-time meaning of the Fifth Amendment by allowing government at all levels to forcibly take perfectly fine homes and businesses under eminent domain powers purely because many of the neighboring properties should be condemned. 

              Like every State in the Union, Virginia, in the wake of Berman, quickly passed laws allowing government housing authorities to take entire tracts of property, including many perfectly fine homes and even open land when clearing slums.  This heavy-handed practice effectively takes much of the underlying economic value away from the present property owners so the city council’s favored developers can take someone else’s equity for almost nothing.

             The loss of the constitutional rights taken away by Berman turned from slum clearing to urban redevelopment to competitive municipal business incentives to an outright land grab across the nation by government.  The floodgate was open.  The constitutional issue was fully joined again.

           It was only three years ago in the case of Kelo v. New London that the historic meaning of the Fifth Amendment was further perverted when, well beyond clearing slums and ending land monopolies, the Supreme Court said government may take any land you may own anywhere for just about any reason.  The high court that is so keen on policing so many parts of our lives, for some reason, even promised in Kelo not to allow the federal courts to interfere with the national treasure hunt by invoking the Fifth Amendment.  It was another stunning loss for the Bill of Rights.

             Across the nation the Kelo decision created an outrage within the citizenry.  The outrage stirred the Congress and the fifty state legislatures to propose all kinds of bills to allegedly restore historic property rights.  Most of the bills were a sham by posturing politicos, including the leading bills introduced before Congress and before the Virginia General Assembly in 2006.  Thankfully, that Virginia bill, introduced by Senator Ken Stolle and Delegate Terri Suit of Virginia Beach, was seen for the window-dressing it was.

              But an astounding event occurred in the 2006 General Assembly session in connection with home ownership rights.  Single-handedly, Delegate Johnny Joannou of Portsmouth, moved and shamed the House of Delegates into passing an eminent domain reform bill that would end the right of government in Virginia to forcibly take perfectly fine homes and businesses away from property owners and their tenants.  The bill would have effectively ended the practice established in Berman that was expanded under Kelo.  In short, it was a revolutionary bill. 

            After several close votes, the Joannou bill passed the House of Delegates by a final vote of 100-0, but the Senate was spared a vote on the bill last year by a clever maneuver made by Tidewater’s own Senator Stolle.  So nothing on the subject passed last year.

                   Almost as astonishing, a group of Republican legislators in 2007 took over the stewardship of the 2006 House passed bill and even included a proposed constitutional amendment to end the land-grab in Virginia forever.  For the first since the rise of American collectivism in the early 20th Century, a statewide law was about to be passed that did not take away property or freedom, but actually expanded the liberty of everyone: truly an historic achievement.

                     Despite many sharp curves and stealthy obstruction tactics, the meaningful eminent domain bill did pass in 2007 by a veto-proof margin in both houses and will come into effect this year unless the Governor successfully pulls something clever, but very risky, through his review powers.   

               Differently, the proposed constitutional amendment was passed by a veto-proof margin in the House, but lost on a vote of 20-18 in the Senate.  Proponents promise to continue the effort.  Hopefully, at the next General Assembly session Senator Stolle’s seat will be held by someone who will vote to restore and forever protect the home ownership rights of Virginians.

                   This amazing political story shows how the will of one man positioned in the right way at the time of an historic event can make all of the difference in the world.  This also proves free people and free markets and the truth will always resound in America if given the opportunity by a proper champion.  We should all emulate with our efforts this historic achievement coming right out of Tidewater.

                The Tidewater Libertarian Party salutes the Virginia General Assembly for its efforts in restoring the traditional freedoms of Virginians with the passage of the eminent domain reform law.  We trust chicanery from the Governor’s office will not be allowed to obstruct this renewal of liberty in Virginia.

LIBERTY’S LEGISLATOR OF THE YEAR
JohnWelch

        The legislator of the year award is bestowed on the Virginia General Assembly member whose votes and leadership most resembled the founding philosophy and character of Washington, Jefferson and Madison: all one-time members of the General Assembly.

            In a momentous year for liberty, this year’s award has a clear match. 

            Virginia Beach Delegate Dr. John Welch is a leading member of the finance, health & welfare and transportation committees.  In his role as subcommittee chair, Delegate Welch ended hundreds of legislative bills that sought money or something more for certain groups.  His accomplishments as the famous, “Dr. No” this year undoubtedly spared the state treasury and the freedom of Virginians in an untold number of ways.  Dr. No says when he hears that cities and big special interests say they favor certain legislation his reflex in a vacuum is to vote No.  Nuff said!    

      On the major issues of the day, Delegate Welch was a strong supporter of meaningful eminent domain reform, a key stalwart in insisting that the budget surplus be largely spent on roads instead of on State hangers-on (again), a vote against the Dominion

Virginia Beach's
John Welch
Power pro-monopoly bill and someone willing to stand alone in a wholly partisan floor vote over the appointment of judges.  No one in Virginia politics can match this voting record when placed on the scales of freedom.

   But maybe Dr. Welch’s greatest service to the citizens this year was his shaping of the transportation bill in connection with the feared regional taxing authorities.  A new layer of government was being advocated by Republican members as well as by Democrats.  It is the new regional tax that rural legislators cornered the cities’ delegations into accepting.

         The final bill coming out the transportation and finance committees gave the new regional authorities plenty to argue over and little ability to act except in a unified way.  When it seemed legislators were about to allow nameless appointees to raise local taxes, Delegate Welch convinced his colleagues that only elected officials should be allowed to raise taxes, including for transportation needs.  Welch’s proposal that city mayors make up the voting board of the regional authorities was passed into law.  There now will be direct electoral accountability for raising the sales tax and the commercial real estate tax to pay for regional highway spending.

        These provisions in the bill appear sufficient to all but ensure there will be no regional approach to new highway spending and no lasting regional tax authorities to worry over. 

       Possibly then a majority of Republican members in the General Assembly can find a way to do the logical and fair thing on roads, to rearrange VDOT spending priorities and raise the gas tax if it is truly necessary to do so.  Out front once again, Delegate Welch has already reached this conclusion and openly says so.

       To a man who so often stands alone in the Halls of Power, we, the individual citizens who he serves so well, hereby highly commend Virginia Delegate John Welch for his insightful, skilled and courageous efforts on our behalf during the 2007 General Assembly session.  The city of Virginia Beach is indeed fortunate to have the legislative figure who today most brings to mind the heritage of Washington, Jefferson and Madison.


AN UNHAPPY CONCEPTION 

          It is beyond ironic that the same Virginia state legislature in 2007 that passed the first large reincarnation of the citizens’ freedom in America in almost one hundred years (story above), also, in the same legislative session, passed the single most dangerous encroachment to freedom in eastern Virginia that has come along in a very long time.

            In a tortured, Machiavellian legislative process, the perceived need for expanded road building in Hampton Roads created an entirely new layer of government, just for us: a regional transportation authority. 

            Why such an unusual, unprecedented approach?  There must be a better way to build new roads.  Whatever happened to good old VDOT? 

HwyConstruction

          The obvious simple solution for building new roadways when needed is to look to the appropriate State gas tax level.  The gas tax affects the citizenry in exact proportion to their usage of the roads, whether the taxpayer is a resident or a traveler.  The same tax rate applies whether one is traveling along the Capitol beltway or the mountain passes of western Virginia.  It is a convenient method for taxpayers and is already being collected through an existing system.

            Yet, State legislators in the new road-building plan lurched to raise fees and taxes in many different ways in order to largely avoid the pay-as-you-use method of building new roads. One of the major new taxes for road building is to impose new tolls along with their delays and new bureaucratic spending.  Surprising in a Republican legislature, even local real estate commercial property tax increases were placed large in the mix to avoid a substantial increase in the statewide gas tax. 

           Why again such legislative acrobatics to avoid the most effective way to achieving a goal?

         The source of the distortion is the statewide formula for the division of State road construction funds.   The formula favors rural areas.  It ensures little needed projects in rural areas will trump spending of the kind needed to untie roadway jams in the large cities.

               Even the combined delegations of Hampton Roads and northern Virginia would be greatly tested to break the bottleneck caused by the formula: and there is precious little unanimity among the cities in the first place.   Nearly one-half of the Republican delegations to the General Assembly are from the rural areas of Virginia benefiting from the formula.  These legislators will never see the need to increase the gas tax in order to primarily build roads in the cities.  The lock is in.  Let the cities pay for their own roads.

              And the cities have fallen for it.  Our local legislators have given up on the concept of statewide financing of new roads.  Now the cities are to pay mostly for their own new roads while still supplying most of the State tax money to build new roads in rural areas.  It is quite a bargain for approximately twenty percent of the Virginia population.  Their legislators have won the money grab in Richmond on this major issue.  It is a blowout.

              But increased taxation in the cities is only the tip of a pending disaster.  Rather than raise the gas tax and change spending priorities, the State legislature has instead incubated for Hampton Roads a monstrous prodigy: a new fourth tier of government: a regional authority for road spending.  Such a terrible new threat to freedom must be suffocated in its infancy.     

           Due in large part to the wisdom and chicanery of a few brave legislators the Hampton Roads regional authority may indeed implode from its inception.  After all, these are the same cities that could not cooperate enough to induce the State to build roads that are needed.   The legislation is tightly drawn for as diverse group a group as the cities and counties of Hampton Roads are. 

         
                 The local politicians are already bickering over what roads to build and what taxes to raise and over how the authority will operate.  The legislation brilliantly places the onus of raising taxes directly on the head of the mayors of the cities.  And the monster can only act through virtual unanimity.

                 Nonetheless, man the barricades!  The first step the beast must take is to be approved into existences by two-thirds vote of the local city councils.  Do not let it happen.  Tell everyone you know Virginia does not need a new layer of government.  Also tell everyone you know that if cities have to pay for their own roads, so should rural areas.  That is the way to break the logjam over the formula once and for all.   


PROTECTING CHILDREN

           A favorite argument of the believers in overbearing government criticize the principle of personal responsibility by pointing out that many children are subjected to hopeless circumstances in their homes.  How could a compassionate America not provide for the basic requirements of the most defenseless among us?

            The circumstances of today’s “at risk” youth are, indeed, as dire as at any time throughout United States history.  In our modern world, child criminals are among the most violent and remorseless of all.  Given their challenges, there is every reason to believe the effort of state social workers can be a large plus in helping kids that have already arrived at the brink of disaster.

            Libertarians do agree with Liberals on the fundamental premise here.  It is the appropriate role of the government to ensure the essential welfare of children.  That obligation of the State extends to ensuring that a child receives a good education and lives in an environment free of abuse or neglect. 

             In libertarian thought, the protection of children is as much a duty of the State as the providing of a common military defense or the punishment under law of people who intentionally harm others.  Libertarians believe in government limited to its proper roles: not in anarchy.

           However, Libertarians strongly disagree with present policies about what would be effective in helping children who are not being properly provided for in their home environment. 

            Society needs to find ways that reward success by parents in raising their children in the face of dire circumstances.  Indeed, it may be possible to greatly improve a home-life situation in fundamental ways and quickly. 

           The difference is how parents are to be treated.  The State’s taking on the responsibility of providing a reasonable opportunity for the unfortunate children of irresponsible citizens should never provide a loophole for personal failure in life’s greatest mission.  Legal responsibility to provide good parenting should be greatly expanded under the law.  

          No one can reasonably dispute that the government’s present method of protecting children rewards failure in parenting rather than success.  The greater the failure, the more the government sympathizes with and, in the end, supports failure in parenting.   

         How many of the “at risk” that social workers help come from homes that have already failed to be able to meet the family’s basic economic needs? 

        If parents are already (wrongly) subsidized for being unable to provide for their children with basic necessities, should not these fortunate recipients of public cash be even better able to provide their children with a proper introduction into life?  Why is the reverse true?  What should be the consequence of the failure of parenting in the most important ways?  The best interests of the child would clearly be to be raised in another home that is not failing as a family.

         Instead of trying to persuade adults to be good parents through perverse incentives like cash subsidies and free health-care, our social safety net should act promptly to save children from a harmful home environment that cannot sustain itself.  Our juvenile courts need to be solely dedicated to the welfare of children: not the interests of parents.  Such a policy would spur the extended family again into an enterprise capable of getting parenting right as occurred in American families until the coming of the welfare state.  Today, uncles and aunts and great cousins largely rely on the State to bail out bad parents in their own family.  The greatest unintended casualty from the government’s war on poverty has been the undermining of the traditional way children in need of a functional home found salvation from their extended natural guardians 

         This is not to say, in the end, the government is not responsible to make certain that children are not abused or neglected and not left homeless or hungry.  That guaranty could come in the form of a disciplined, group home that allows sober parents to live with their children in exchange for their work.  Possibly, a well-funded and supervised foster-care system that keeps a role for loving, if incompetent, parents would prove an even better solution.

        Whatever the solution that best serves children, the cost of failure should be borne by the two people who brought the child into the world.  Parents should be 100% responsible for repaying the government for all of the expenses needed to place their children in a sustainable, wholesome environment.  If the duties most people envision for parents were given the force of law in more ways, there would be far fewer irresponsible parents to contend with.  The free pass for failure should be abolished along with the free handout.

Call it tough love. It is individual responsibility.  It works.

HRFN is a publication of the Tidewater Libertarian Party

Contact the Editor at AttyMerrill@GhentLaw.US 
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