by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
The repeal of the Map act flew through the General Assembly this year with unanimous votes in both chambers. According to JLF Senior Political Analyst Mitch Kokai, floor debate in the Senate lasted less than two minutes, and only one senator spoke about the repeal. Rarely anything goes through the legislature that easily, so Kokai explains the event which caused this universal consensus:
A unanimous N.C. Supreme Court had ruled against the N.C. Department of Transportation in 2016 in a case focusing on the Map Act.
DOT had used the act to tie up property throughout the path of a proposed Winston-Salem bypass. Property owners who had seen their homes sit in legal limbo for more than a decade sued the department. They won a clear victory.
The Map Act allowed DOT to prevent home-owners in proposed highway corridors from developing, improving, or subdividing their properties. The results caused these properties to lose value, made owners unable to sell, and led to deterioration of neighborhoods in the area. It created a regulatory takings which paralyzed property owners for decades. According to Kokai:
[Justice Paul] Newby and his colleagues sent the case back to the trial court and ordered it to compensate property owners for the “takings.”
…The resulting price tag has been hefty. During House debate over this year’s Map Act repeal bill, Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, told colleagues that DOT already had paid $230 million to resolve about one-third of the outstanding court cases. The total cost to taxpayers could top $600 million.
Now that the Map act has been repealed, Kokai suggests two major reforms moving forward:
First, realize that the value of a piece of property might decline as soon as it is designated officially for a road project. This is true with or without a Map Act. DOT ought to buy the land as early in the process as possible. If a quick purchase isn’t possible, the department should pay some equitable price for limiting the property’s use.
Second, both the department and the General Assembly should agree that government will not cut highway costs by pushing private property owners around. Lawmakers face a duty to taxpayers to spend their money wisely. No one wants to pay more than necessary to build a new road. But part of the necessary expense involves fair property acquisition. The state must make property owners whole when a project forces them out of their homes or off their land.