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Governors, mayors should take responsibility for the pain inflicted on businesses by lockdowns

State and local leaders who were eager to expand their power during the COVID outbreak now want to avoid accountability. “Bail us out,” they are demanding from Congress.

Beginning in March, governors and mayors locked down their societies and economies. They forced millions out of work. They instigated policies that CDC now estimates nearly half of all necessary medical treatments were missed. Hundreds of thousands of businesses are shuttered. Entrepreneurs have lost their investments. Some jurisdictions remain locked down.

Many of the businesses that have survived have incurred heavy losses due to the policy choices of their state and local officials. The prohibitions that prevented some businesses from operating, while allowing similar enterprises to remain open, were not just grossly unfair, they constituted a taking by the government.

If government were to take your property, the United States Constitution requires that there be just compensation. In other words, government must pay you when they take your property by coercion.

How is taking a portion of your business not the same?

When your property is taken by government, it is ostensibly for a purpose that benefits the entire community. Perhaps there is the need to widen a road, build irrigation works, or some other project that is permissible under the state constitutions. The key is that the taking provides some proclaimed broad scope benefit.

Next, it is typical that a valuation of the property taken is made. If the person thinks the valuation is too low, she can pursue a higher compensation.

But, in any event, the public purpose of taking of property requires that the government taking the property provide compensation.

The government is responsible. And, sometimes the taking is found to be unnecessary or wrongful.

Imagine that you owned a business that you have invested your life savings to establish and into which you have given your blood, sweat, and tears. Your governor or mayor then tells you that in order to protect public health your business must shut its doors, while the business next door is “essential,” and is allowed to remain open.

While you are put in the position of having to furlough your employees and you are forced into struggling to pay the rent on your commercial space, your governor displays incredible empathy by saying, “businesses should have prepared.” Prepare for a once-in-a-century epidemic? How does one prepare for unconstitutional executive orders that shut down your business?

You would have opened your business had the governors and mayors not issued orders making it illegal to do so. You invested in mitigating measures, but still the government tells you that it’s not enough. You have to eat the losses that the government has imposed on you.

It would seem that, in the same way that the state and local government are on the hook for taking physical property, it should also be responsible for taking the businesses away from its citizens.

Instead, the governors and mayors who aggressively attacked the businesses in their communities want to pretend that the economic carnage they forced on their communities is not their fault. They are demanding that Congress bail them out for shutting down their economies, forcing businesses to close — some permanently, impacting other health care issues, imposed increased mental health issues on children, adolescents, and adults.

While governors and mayors have effectively taken away businesses through their government edicts, they do not want to make compensation for their acts. They want the federal government to be on the hook. And, while it is ultimately the American taxpayer who will foot the bill, the governors want to avoid the accountability for the costs of their actions.

The federal government, itself, is not prudent in handling your money; it has already spent more than $3 trillion to provide relief without a method to repay that debt. It is time for the governors and mayors to own what they have created.

Biggs represents Arizona’s 5th District and is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

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