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Nov. 3, 2006

Radical Land-Use Ballot Initiatives Would Endanger State Government Safeguards and Drain Local Treasuries

Wealthy New York Developer Funds Misleading Campaign to Enact Anti-Environment Measures in Four Western States

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A wealthy New York developer is coordinating an $8 million campaign to enact state ballot initiatives that would eviscerate state environmental safeguards in four Western states and threaten to bankrupt the state treasuries, according to a report released today by Public Citizen.

Organizations connected to Howie Rich have primarily funded the initiatives to allow individual landowners to claim compensation from state and local governments for any decrease in property value as a result of planning, environmental or other government protections. They will be on the ballot in four states on Election Day: Arizona (Proposition 207), California (Proposition 90), Idaho (Proposition 2) and Washington (Initiative 933).

Similar initiatives were bounced – in full or in part – from ballots in Oklahoma and Nevada because courts there found that the structure of the initiatives violated those states’ requirements that ballot initiatives embrace only a single subject. In Montana, a court found that proponents engaged in massive fraud in the petition drive to win a spot on the ballot.

The campaigns falsely advertise the initiatives as necessary to prevent governments from condemning property owners’ land, but they instead are intended to serve as cash cows for developers. If approved, they would leave governments with an unacceptable choice between rolling back decades of environmental protection rules – such as those to combat sprawl, protect wetlands and preserve clean air and clean water – or paying bounties to developers as compensation for restrictions on using their land however they please.

Rich is a longtime activist for causes to gut governments’ regulatory authority and restrict their ability to collect taxes. He and his affiliated front groups, using misleading grassroots names such as Montanans in Action, Americans for Limited Government and the Fund for Democracy, appear to have provided most of the money for the property initiative campaigns in each of the states. Ironically, if the initiatives are enacted, they would cost state and local treasuries billions of dollars and result in the need for higher taxes to maintain funding for critical state functions.

The campaign also seeks to scare and deceive voters by including “eminent domain” language in the measures that prohibits states from seizing privately held land for use in economic development projects. But the eminent domain issue was inserted only to provide cover for ballot initiatives that include far more insidious provisions curtailing governments’ ability to implement important environmental and zoning standards that benefit the public.   

“These initiatives are thinly veiled attempts to overturn all kinds of government land-use protections for the purpose of uncontrolled profiteering by developers,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, which produced the report. “If enacted, they would amount to an extortion of local government by wealthy special interests.”

“Rich’s use of groups from out-of-state and his reliance on paid signature collectors to get his initiatives on the ballot reveal what this campaign is all about: a special-interest land grab cloaked in a populist disguise,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

To read the report, visit click here.

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