Virginia’s top lawyer is usually too busy to pop in on Capitol subcommittee meetings. Especially if he’s also the father of seven and is running for governor.
But Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II found the time Wednesday evening, when he dashed over to a House subcommittee meeting to urge members not to be fazed by a $36 million-a-year pricetag.
Government auditors estimate it will cost the state that much if Virginia’s constitution is amended to prohibit government from seizing property through eminent domain to spur economic development or job creation.
Cuccinelli got wind of the cost estimate — he called it a “guesstimate” — and rushed over to a meeting of the civil law subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee, where the fiscal impact statement was to be discussed about 6 p.m.
“What that fiscal impact statement is, is an admission by Virginia’s government that that’s how much we’re taking from citizens in the value of their property and businesses every year,” Cuccinelli told reporters after addressing the committee. “That’s really a pretty sad admission. But that’s the fact, and that’s also why the constitutional amendment’s necessary.”
Virginia lawmakers voted in favor of amending the constitution last year to make it harder for government to seize property by eminent domain. The measure is before the General Assembly again this year because in order to change the document, the amendment must pass the General Assembly a second time, with an election in between. Then, it must be approved by voters through referendum.
The subcommittee Cuccinelli addressed was considering a bill related to the proposed constitutional amendment. The bill sets out how to determine just compensation for the owners of property taken by eminent domain. Government auditors put the $36 million pricetag on that bill.
After hearing from Cuccinelli, the subcommittee voted 5-2 to advance the legislation.
“It is very unusual to see the attorney general come and testify on a bill,” said Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), the House minority leader and a member of the subcommittee. “That was kind of fun.”
(Not that Cuccinelli’s appearance swayed Toscano, who cast one of the two nay votes.)
The push to amend the constitution stems from a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the U.S. Constitution does not bar governments from seizing property from one private owner and transferring it to another for purposes of economic development.
Virginia passed a law in 2007 to bar such private takings. But Cuccinelli and others have said the ability to hold private property is such an integral right that it should be protected in the state constitution.