Ownership in property can be thought of as ownership of the rights to the "incomes" associated with different uses of the property. Each potential use has a separate economic value, which can be ranked if put into money terms. The property's market value is usually held to be the highest income on that ranking. Wetland protection regulations might shift the ownership of some of these rights from private to public entities or restrict the exercise of some rights. This can result in a reduction of the property's market value, if the regulation precludes access to the income from the highest ranking use. A regulation can never increase the economic value of a property from the owner's perspective. Whether or not a reduction in property value is considered "fair" is a question usually left to the courts. If it is determined that a regulation has resulted in a "taking" of property, compensation must be paid. The appropriate level of compensation is the difference between estimated pre- and post-regulation market values. The task of the analyst is to estimate those two values, after first determining if the two uses are feasible given other physical, financial, and legal conditions. Because property prices are not determined until there is a transaction, all such valuations are necessarily estimates based on the professional judgments of the analyst. There are not easy ways to determine these values short of costly individual appraisals or extensive market studies. Wetland regulations in Minnesota do result in reduced values for some property owners--as do all land use regulations. Demonstrating that values went down on regulated properties has policy import, however, only if: (1) the examples are so egregious that the Legislature decides to change the enabling legislation to adjust the distribution of the law's benefits and costs; or (2) the sum of measured property losses exceeds any estimate of total benefits, in which case the Legislature might decide to change the law as not in the broader public interest. Should further property value analyses be conducted? Only if the Legislature is very clear about why it wants to do the study. If the concern is one of fairness, then the distribution of a regulation's costs should be examined by using parcel-by-parcel appraisals or by a careful calculation of the economic benefits and costs among different classes of people, classes of property, or regions of the state. If, on the other hand, the concern is that the aggregate costs of the regulation may exceed its total benefits, then broader economic valuation studies are called for. We are not prepared to recommend either approach at this time, because the Legislature has not yet declared what the problem really is.


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