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Should The Government Have A Garage Sale?

Imagine you make $50,000 a year, but your expenses are $55,000 a year. To make matters worse, you are hopelessly in debt, and the bills just keep piling up (hopefully you just need to imagine this and it’s not reality). What would you do? Well, most of us would immediately take action to cut expenses and/or make more money. But of course the government is not like most of us.

As I look out my office window I can see a beautiful three story stone building that fills the square block across the street.  Despite the fact that it is a historically-significant building that sits on one of the most valuable locations in Portland, and borders some of the highest priced developments in the history of the city, it has been vacant for almost ten years since the federal offices moved out.

A couple years ago I attempted to buy the building, but the Federal Government that owns it was not interested in talking. I know of at least three other major developers that also tried to buy the building, but due to government bureacracy they were unable to make any headway.  So it sits unoccupied, and instead of the government realizing several million dollars by selling the building, or even attempting to lease it out, they pay maintenance fees for a big empty building, while creating a bit of a blight in the neigborhood.  Even if the government was not open to selling or leasing the building at this point, the site is surrounded by a couple dozen open parking spots that would be in high demand in this neighborhood.

OK, I know that collecting $20,000 a year for parking, or even the millions of dollars the government could reap by selling the building certainly would not cure our budget crisis, but I can’t help but wonder how many other government buildings are sitting empty across the country.  Hundreds?  Maybe even thousands?

When an individual or a business is in financial trouble they initially look at their assets to see what they can sell to raise cash. Maybe they have a little garage sale. Of course, I don’t want the government to sell our National Parks or sell and lease back the White House, but I am willing to bet that a little “garage sale” could raise a significant amount of cash and lower expenditures.

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