November 1, 1995 in Nation/World

Good Intentions Aren’t Enough To Make Referendum 48 A Good Law

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revi
 

Referendum 48 on the Nov. 7 general election ballot is a can of worms.

The referendum was written, its backers would have voters believe, to provide fair compensation when private land use is restricted for the public benefit.

Sounds reasonable enough.

But critics charge the law is so short and vaguely worded that it is unintelligible, unworkable, and unaffordable.

“Supporters of R-48 contend the measure will improve the quality of government decision making,” says the Washington Research Council, a business-funded think tank. “The government will be forced to calculate the costs and benefits of any new land use regulations and to pay for any property taken.

“Opponents, on the other hand,” says the research group, “feel the measure will unjustly impoverish the general taxpayers, create unwieldy new bureaucracies, and thwart essential regulatory processes.”

The state’s major newspapers all lambaste editorially what many have labeled the most extreme property-rights law in America.

The Tacoma New Tribune called it “a breathtakingly flawed and dangerous piece of work.”

Said the Seattle Times, “The measure is so hastily and poorly written, drafters forgot to mention zoning, meaning a property owner could put a 7-Eleven store or a cement plant on a quiet residential street unless government pays the property owner not to.”

An economic study by researchers of the Institute for Public Policy and Management at the University of Washington concludes the property rights referendum is a case of good intentions gone awry.

The Spokesman-Review’s editorial page called the researchers “some of the state’s most credible analysts - individuals with strong conservative and business credentials.”

Continued the S-R, “They said the preparation of economic impact statements, as defined in the (new) law, would paralyze the permitting process and cost Washington’s local governments $278 million to $899 million per year.

“They estimated local governments would have to pay landowners $3.8 billion to $11 billion for routine limits on land use.”

The numbers are stunning.

“Proponents of R-48 say the numbers are too large,” researcher Glenn Pascall, technical director of the study, told editors of the S-R. “Opponents, however, say the numbers are too small.”

But numbers anywhere in that range would wreak havoc on the economy. Taxpayers - small business included - couldn’t sustain such costs.

Giant corporate landholders with vast tracts of developable acreage would reap rich windfalls at the expense of others.

Land regulation would grind to a halt.

Growth would explode.

The Seattle Chamber of Commerce voted three-to-one against a resolution to support R-48. But the state’s most powerful and influential business lobby, the Association of Washington Business, is behind it.

“I’ve followed the AWB for years and I really like (president) Don Brunell a lot,” observes Pascall, who has mostly worked for business clients over the years. “And I think Brunell is the best thing that’s happened to AWB maybe ever.”

Ditto.

“But there is quite a history of AWB taking very colorful, controversial, send-‘em-amessage positions,” adds Pascall. Indeed, he is so pro-business that he was similarly predisposed, early in the study.

“There came a day,” confesses the study technical director, “when I, too, thought: By God, let’s send ‘em a message - I don’t care whether this is flawed or not! We gotta get these bureaucrats’ attention. We gotta bring this regulatory monster under control.

“But in this case,” says the researcher, “the price of the message is absolutely astronomical. However, the AWB loves to send messages - regardless of the price. And they did it again.”

With a vengeance.

This is not to say property rights reform is not needed. It is. Many landowners need a better shake. But this is not the way.

“R-48 would spend millions on compensation for those who don’t want or need it,” Pascall laments, “but fails to compensate other property owners for the losses in land value it would cause.

“It is a case of throwing vast amounts of money at a problem to reach a relative handful who need help.”

Agreed. This is a bad law for nearly everyone, and that includes business. It’s a special-interest rip-off. More corporate welfare.

On the Nov. 7 ballot, voters will be asked: “Should this law be approved or rejected?”

The right answer is - rejected.

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel’s column appears on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel’s column appears on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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