Governor's Sticker Shock Over an Alleged $1 Billion Price Tag is Unfounded
By State Senator Glenn Hegar, State Representative Beverly Woolley and State Representative William A. Callegari
In defending his veto of House Bill 2006 (Houston Chronicle, July 2, 2007), Governor Rick Perry maligns the property rights protection bill that passed the 80th Legislature by an overwhelming margin and with bipartisan support.
The Governor's primary contention is sticker shock over an alleged (and unfounded) $1 billion price tag. House Bill 2006 might have caused condemnation costs to increase, but an increase in costs only underscores the fact that property owners are not currently being adequately compensated. The cost of a project, such as a road, is fixed and does not change with changes to eminent domain law. Currently, a disproportionate burden of those project costs is being borne by landowners facing uncompensated losses for objective, measurable items upon seizure of their land.
Adequate, or just, compensation, as required by the Constitutions of the United States and Texas, are public funds paid to individuals whose property, including any business or home, has been forcibly taken by the government. Some taxpayers may be getting a bargain with Governor Perry's veto, but at a great cost to a few affected landowners, who are also taxpayers.
Of course, the alleged $1 billion annual price tag should be closely examined. Throughout the legislative process, which included multiple committee hearings and re-drafts of the bill, the Texas Department of Transportation claimed that "the fiscal impact to the state cannot be estimated". When the bill was before committee, the Texas Municipal League registered a neutral position and the Texas Association of Counties was noticeably absent. Nevertheless, both organizations now estimate that the bill "would result in significant cost increases for municipalities and counties."
Furthermore, the "bank-breaking" amendment that Governor Perry references was tacked on in the Senate by Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy). Senator Hegar's amendment wasn't slipped in the bill at the last minute, however. Senator Hegar filed Senate Bill 1711 on March 9, 2007, more than two months before the bill, in amendment form, was added to House Bill 2006. Additionally, Senator Hegar's bill was passed out of the full Senate without any opposition or comment from anyone, including the Governor, about a fiscal implication to taxpayers.
For Senate Bill 1711, like House Bill 2006, the fiscal implications to the state could not be estimated. The fiscal note for Senate Bill 1711 claims no fiscal implication for local governments. Nonetheless, Governor Perry cites the Hegar amendment as the bill's millstone, yet the alleged $1 billion price tag for House Bill 2006 is not reflected in the legislative record at any point.
Whatever the real costs of House Bill 2006, Governor Perry's veto of HB 2006 puts the insatiable demands of government over one of the most basic individual liberties that sets us apart from so many who don't enjoy freedom: private property rights. The state should always err on the side of private property rights, as it is a foundational principle of our democratic Republic. The state will survive increased road-building costs. It cannot endure if the right to property is not secured and strengthened.
[Signed Beverly Woolley, Bill Callegari, Glenn Hegar]