- Prohibition against using eminent domain for economic development is based on intent, not action.
- Blight loophole remains.
Alaska’s state constitution contains almost the same language as the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment: “Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation.” For years, that statement protected property owners. The general public understood what public use meant and no one worried that his home, business, farm, or church might one day be suddenly taken from him so that a private developer could build a mall.
That all changed with the Kelo decision, as the constitutional provision that everyone trusted to protect their most fundamental of rights was suddenly ambiguous. After all, once the federal Takings Clause was interpreted to allow eminent domain abuses, Alaskans realized that their state’s Takings Clause could be treated the same way. Under Kelo, since “public use” now also means “private use,” Alaskans need more protection at the state level.
In 2006, HB 318 sailed through both legislative houses with unanimous support. The new law prohibits the use of eminent domain “to acquire private property from a private person for the purpose of transferring title to the property to another private person for economic development purposes.” Unfortunately, this language does not provide property owners solid protection. In order to prevent authorities from taking private property from one person and turning it over to another private entity, states need to ban all private-to-private transfers (with a few narrowly tailored exceptions for common carriers and the like). By focusing on the intent behind the transfer, rather than the transfer itself, Alaska’s Legislature provided a ready-made excuse for authorities to say that a private transfer was not their purpose when they originally acquired the property.
Additionally, snowcats could still drive through the loophole of the state’s blight statute. Alaska’s vague definitions of “slum areas” and “blighted areas” are virtually identical to those that have been horribly exploited in many other states. As currently written, the factors to determine blight could apply to virtually any home. And since the designations are made by “area,” only a few properties need to be blighted before officials can destroy an entire neighborhood.