Heritage Act Targets Private Property

Published December 1, 2007

Property rights supporters rallied in opposition to a proposed law that would increase federal government power over private lands.

The “Celebrating America’s Heritage Act,” scheduled for a House vote during the week of October 22, would double the funding for nine existing National Heritage Areas (NHAs) and expand federal government power to restrict private property rights in the name of preserving national heritage.

Breaking Promises

National Heritage Areas are communities designated by the federal government, with the help of activist groups, as representing a historical heritage that should be preserved. Citizens who own land within the designated areas are restricted in how they can utilize their property.

The National Park Service receives federal funds to preserve and promote the areas, under the premise that the allocated funds are merely seed money to facilitate the heritage areas becoming self-sufficient after a short period of promotion and preservation.

When the nine existing National Heritage Areas targeted by the new bill were created under the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996, each was granted $10 million in seed money to help achieve self sufficiency.

The late Rep. Bruce Vento (DFL-MN) summarized the justification for the seed money when he spoke on the House floor in support of the 1996 legislation shortly before it was approved by the House.

“There is a limit to the length of time or the amount of money the federal government can [put] in a heritage area. In 10 years, we are out of there. Then they are on their own and we all get the benefit of that conservation,” Vento said.

Perpetual Pork

The Celebrating America’s Heritage Act would add more than $100 million to the national budget deficit, equaling “the annual amount of federal income taxes paid by 22,184 filers who have adjusted incomes between $30,000 and $75,000,” National Taxpayers Union Senior Government Affairs Manager Kristina Rasmussen told a House subcommittee before the summer congressional recess. “That means 22,184 middle-income filers would send one year’s worth of federal income taxes just to these nine heritage areas.”

“This latest effort to establish more NHAs is pork barrel politics at its worst,” American Property Coalition President Tom DeWeese said. “Special interest groups are relying on deceit and outright lies to gain approval, hoping to pad their pockets at the expense of property owners and local economies. If H.R. 1483 passes and old NHA designations are extended and new ones are created, it will likely then make establishment of a national program unstoppable.”

Property Rights Champions

The Freedom 21 Agenda for Prosperity, part of a national campaign advocating increased local self-government in the United States, highlights some of the negative consequences of restricting private property rights in favor of government control. According to Freedom 21, the federal government already owns one-third of the land in the United States and enforces stifling regulatory restrictions on much more.

“Except for relatively modest land areas specifically targeted for unique environmental purposes, history has demonstrated time and again that publicly managed land and water is often poorly cared for,” Freedom 21 notes.

Freedom 21 observes government ownership and control of property is “counter to the American experience” of freedom and rugged individualism. “Government must nurture property rights and the self-interest of citizens” instead of crowding them out under collectivist policies, the statement says.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

Freedom 21 Agenda for Prosperity: http://www.freedom21.org/