Powerful forces—including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R), the Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn, and President Donald Trump—have aligned, to turn more than 1,000 acres of Wisconsin farmland and family homes into an LCD screen manufacturing facility.
Reason visited the village of Mt. Pleasant to speak with homeowners facing the threat of eminent domain, and the local government officials responsible for acquiring the land on behalf of Foxconn, which is receiving $4.5 billion in subsidies and tax breaks. The project was sold to the public with a promise of 13,000 jobs and billions in additional tax revenue.
To assemble land for the project, local officials have already declared entire neighborhoods to be “blighted,” with the goal of seizing homes with eminent domain, a legal term that typically describes the process of taking property from a private owner to facilitate a public use.
But what qualifies as a “public use?” In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the Connecticut town of New London was justified in seizing the land of homeowner Susette Kelo to hand it over to the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on the grounds that it would spur economic development in an economically depressed area. The Pfizer project was never built, and the lot where Kelo’s house once stood is empty and overgrown 13 years later. Public backlash led 43 states, including Wisconsin, to enact legislation protecting property owners from eminent domain for private projects.
With lawsuits planned, this project may test the strength of Wisconsin’s post-Kelo law. Can public officials override the property rights of homeowners in pursuit of big development deals?
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Justin Monticello and Weissmueller. Additional graphics by Meredith Bragg.
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