They say the states are supposed to be the laboratories for legislative creativity. We can watch what works and what doesn’t, emulate the best and avoid worst, and improve the lot of everyone.
But what happens when the mad scientist is the federal government, cramming an experiment down the throat of a particular state and county? What if their process is textbook “arbitrary and capricious“, and yet they clearly aspire to go national with the results, regardless of efficacy?
Such is the saga going on in Westchester County New York, where County Executive Rob Astorino is embroiled in a nearly four-year-old legislative and financial nightmare brought on by his predecessor Andrew Spano. Astorino, a Republican, defeated the three-term incumbent Democrat by an odds-crushing 16 points in November of 2009, and gained unprecedented voter support by vowing to challenge what became law very late in his campaign. Astorino described the source of the problem, in his recent “State of the County” speech:
“If you think Albany is bad, wait until I tell you about Washington and the housing settlement. A quick history: The County was sued in 2006 under the False Claims Act of 1863. The charge was that the County accepted Federal dollars from the department of Housing and Urban Development, but failed to study whether race is a factor in housing opportunities. In 2009, former County Executive Andrew Spano and the Board of Legislators settled the case, and critically important, there was never a finding of wrong-doing on the part of the County, or an admission of guilt in the settlement. Instead of going to court, the County and the Federal government both agreed to settle under the following terms: The County would spend at least $51 million dollars to build 750 units of housing for lower income people in 31 so-called eligible or mostly white communities by the end of 2016.”
Combating this “mostly white” designation, by any means necessary, is apparently the crux of HUD’s mission. To HUD’s way of thinking, surely these communities are “mostly white” only because of racial discrimination, or as Astorino went on to describe, zoning practices that they think have the net effect of being racially discriminatory:
“The Federal government has a very different agenda and vision for Westchester. In fact, HUD calls us, its ‘Grand Experiment.’ That means Washington bureaucrats, who you will never see or meet, want the power to determine who will live where, and how each neighborhood will look. Now what’s at stake is the fundamental right of our cities, towns and villages to plan and zone for themselves. This ‘home rule’ is guaranteed by the New York State Constitution. HUD thinks it can trample on Westchester, because it has the misguided notion that zoning and discrimination are the same thing. They are not. Zoning restricts what can be built, not who lives there.”
States and localities around the country reacted with horror to the now famous2005 Kelo vs. City of New London Connecticut “takings” case. How should they react to the virtual taking of an entire county’s property, knowing that theirs may very well be next?