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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

WA Rejects Property Rights Ballot Question

Air Date: Week of November 10, 1995

Nineteen states already have laws ensuring property owners payment for land value lost to government regulations. Advocates in Washington state tried to raise the number to 20, but their election day efforts failed to pass the strictest compensation law in the country. Terry FitzPatrick of Living on Earth's Northwest bureau files this follow up report.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Environmental concerns were on the ballot in several recent state and local elections. New Jersey voters easily approved a $340 million bond issue to help finance the purchase of land for recreation and conservation. Voters in 2 Utah counties overwhelmingly rejected limits on development in their communities. In Colorado, voters split over growth limit measures with one being approved and one rejected. And in a closely-watched race in Washington state, voters defeated a proposal to compensate property owners when government regulations lessen the value of their land. The Washington vote could affect the property rights movement nationwide. From our Northwest Bureau at KPLU, Seattle, Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.

FITZPATRICK: Referendum 48 would have gone farther than any property rights law has gone before. Any reduction in property value caused by the government would have triggered compensation. The sweeping nature of R48 became a rallying point for opponents. Environmentalists, civic organizations, even church and senior groups, joined forces to fight it. They stressed that the measure could have forced taxpayers to spend $11 billion a year. They claimed compensation payments would threaten the enforcement of zoning and environmental regulations. The message clearly worked: 60% rejected the proposal; only 40% approved it. The lopsided vote came as a surprise to most observers, but it does follow a national trend. David Sokolow is Director of the American Resources Information Network, a Washington, DC, coalition that opposes property rights initiatives.

SOKOLOW: This is the third time that the voters of a state have had a chance to take a look at this on a ballot, and the third time that they've defeated it. I think it makes pretty clear that while the property rights movement may claim to be a grassroots uprising, it's clearly not. It's clearly a special interest corporate funded movement that doesn't really have a base of popular support.

FITZPATRICK: However, property rights activists maintain that they are gaining strength. In the past 4 years, 19 state legislatures have adopted property rights legislation, and a bill is pending in Congress. Nancy Marzulla of the national group Defenders of Property Rights says the defeat in Washington won't kill her movement.

MARZULLA: It's never over if the issue doesn't go away, if the concerns which motivated these people to get it on the ballot in the first place are not satisfied. It's going to have to be addressed one way or the other.

FITZPATRICK: Nearly every state legislature is likely to debate property rights in 1996. But analyst Larry Morandi of the National Conference of State Legislatures predicts the defeat of R48 in Washington could change the nature of the debate.

MORANDI: I think states will look at that and say that's not the way we should go. That the people have decided that something that is that broadly based might be overkill.

FITZPATRICK: Morandi thinks measures involving only timber or wetland restrictions instead of all government regulations have a better chance of passing. In fact, that shift is already underway in Washington. Property rights advocates plan to rewrite Referendum 48 and resubmit it to the legislature early next year. For Living on Earth I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.

 

 

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