Michael Rathbone
When most Saint Louisans think about eminent domain abuses, they tend to conjure up thoughts of Maplewood razing neighborhoods in order to build a Walmart or Clayton trying to seize land to hand over to Centene. But what of eminent domain in the case of government agencies? Can that justify taking families' homes?

If you are a Saint Louis City alderman who wants to keep the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) from moving to Fenton or Mehlville or even possibly Scott Air Force Base, there is a good chance that you’d say yes. That’s why plans to use eminent domain to seize property as part of the plan to keep the NGA in Saint Louis are moving forward. Yet despite this “progress,” that doesn’t mean the aldermen are correct. For the people of North Saint Louis, the abuse of eminent domain is imminent.

Eminent domain has a legitimate purpose. Sometimes it is necessary to seize property to use for the public good, such as highways or sewers. Yet, there is no reason in this case to think that using eminent domain would serve as a public good. Unlike highways, which must go more-or-less in a straight line, the new NGA headquarters is flexible in how it is laid out and where it can locate. Even if the NGA moves to the county or to Scott Air Force Base, NGA employees living in the city are unlikely to move. Why violate somebody’s private property rights when it is not necessary?

The truth is that the city stands to lose millions in earnings taxes if the NGA moves out. It’s understandable, especially when budgets are tight, that the city would want to try anything to avoid losing even more revenue. However, people's homes matter more than extra tax revenue. Being hard up for money doesn't give the city a valid reason to take people's homes.

About the Author

Michael Rathbone
Michael Rathbone was a policy researcher at the Show-Me Institute. He is a native of Saint Louis and a 2008 graduate of Saint Louis University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering.