Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Another Blow to Property Rights

From today's WSJ, yet another issue to keep on your radar screens:
In Empress Casino v. Giannoulias, the question involves the passage of a state law that took money from four riverboat casinos and gave it to five horse-racing tracks to use as purse money, among other things. According to the Illinois Supreme Court, the action cannot be considered a "taking" because it involved the transfer of money from one party to another, not the confiscation of land, as takings law has traditionally been applied. (The casinos are appealing to the U.S. Supremes, who will consider the certiorari petition soon.)

Property is property, however, whether it's the contents of a bank account, a factory, or a house with a white picket fence. If the Illinois Supreme Court ruling is allowed to stand, it could establish a precedent whereby the government may take money from any successful business to prop up a failing one. That means, in theory, the government could pass a law to take money from the successful dry cleaner on Main Street to subsidize the lousy one around the corner -- or from Barnes and Noble to subsidize the corner bookshop.

Broadly levied, wealth redistribution for public purpose has already been ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court in the case of the income tax. Writ small, as it is in Empress Casino, it's a tool that might be wielded against unpopular industries and used by politicians to kiss up to favorite constituents. Think revenge of the aldermen.

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