F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
June 18, 2000
CARA is a "Pork-Filled Land Grab"

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Instead of buying up more property, federal and state governments should sell the two-fifths of our nation's land mass that they already own!

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) is "little more than a pork-filled land grab by federal and state land management and recreation agencies," say Gregg VanHelmond and Angela Antonelli of the Heritage Foundation. The pork includes "millions of dollars annually, ranging from $7 million for the District of Columbia to $324 million for California." The two analysts note that the states receiving this windfall are already "enjoying record surpluses and choosing to use their excess revenues to fund other priorities."

VanHelmond and Antonelli emphasize that there are added, hidden costs to CARA, since "acquiring new land will also require funding both for its maintenance and to compensate jurisdictions for the loss of economic development." They predict that CARA will "trigger significant increases in discretionary spending above and beyond what is dedicated to the trust fund."

Dismayed by CARA's "vast expansion of federal and state roles in local land management decisions," VanHelmond and Antonelli point out that the Department of the Interior must "review and approve many of the plans the states submit for the use of the funds. The funds," they add, "would not be disbursed to a state without the Secretary of the Interior's approval." VanHelmond and Antonelli charge that the Conservation and Reinvestment Act is "inherently unfair because it empowers government at all levels and special interests to buy land, placing average Americans at a disadvantage. Rather than support private property ownership, which the Founding Fathers understood was critical to maintaining liberty, CARA would fund the purchase of land by governments and special-interest groups," they explain. "Government at any level -- federal, state, or local -- should own property only if a compelling natural resource need must be met that cannot be encouraged by private ownership or enterprise."

VanHelmond and Antonelli consider it "unfair to use tax dollars to give special interests more power and resources to purchase private property than average Americans have. Special-interest groups like environmental and conservation organizations should compete in the market with private citizens, businesses, or anyone else for property," they assert, "and local communities should determine how land in their jurisdictions should be used."

Nancie Marzulla, president of Defenders of Property Rights, worries that the protections accorded to property owners by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are being eroded, with the federal government increasingly taking private property for other than legitimate public purposes and frequently failing to pay owners the fair market value. Also, many property owners find their land "regulated in such a way that nearly every right to use it as they chose has been closed." In a policy report published by the Free Congress Foundation, Marzulla urges Congress "to adopt procedural reforms for the federal courts and to establish a clear standard for those courts to use in determining when a regulatory enforcement violates the 'takings clause' of the Fifth Amendment." She also recommends that Congress "install accountability into the regulatory system, requiring agencies to recognize and stand responsible for any unconstitutional activities they perform."

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