With so many municipalities nationally feeling the financial pinch, it's proper for Congress to send a message that state and local governments shouldn't look to ease their money problems through seizing private property solely for tax purposes.
The U.S. House recently passed a measure by voice vote that, if enacted, would withhold federal development assistance to states or communities that take private property for the purpose of boosting their tax base.
The measure is in response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that turned the traditional notion of eminent domain - taking private property for public use - on its head.
In that decision, the court ruled that New London, Conn., was allowed to seize private property - force people out of their homes - to turn the land over to a developer based on the assumption that the resulting commercial project would increase tax revenue.
Prior to this ruling, the belief had been that government only could take private property when the land was to be used for a public facility, such as a road, bridge, public structure, dam, etc. or when the property was blighted or deemed a public nuisance.
Some states, including Pennsylvania, already have taken steps to rein in the possible abuse of eminent domain by restricting when property can be seized for private development. In those cases, the land generally can be taken only if it is a public nuisance, unfit for human habitation, abandoned, blighted or property taxes are at least two years delinquent.
A federal law would offer protections to residents of other states that have not adopted their own eminent domain restrictions and discourage municipalities or states from taking people's businesses or habitable homes to give to a private developer in hopes of higher tax revenue.
The House has done its job in this effort. Now the Senate should follow suit and protect private property rights.