The debate about closing the American deficit has gotten so contentious that the Treasury Department told Congress recently that the US could default on its obligations and throw the global capital markets into chaos unless the debt ceiling is raised. One way that Uncle Sam could generate some quick cash — which is getting surprisingly little attention — is by unloading some of its vast land holdings.
The federal government makes a very modest sum each year from the sale and leasing of land–mostly for mining, drilling, and mineral rights. These amounts are too small to make any dent in the deficit. Selling some of the government’s real estate particularly in the wide open spaces in the Western U.S., however, might do the trick.
There is a precedent for the sale of federal land to help balance the county’s books, although it is an ancient one. President Andrew Jackson sold real estate in the western US in 1835, a deal that reportedly netted about $75 million. The exact amount is hard to determine because it was not sold in one lot. Nonetheless, Jackson was able to use the proceeds to wipe out the entire national debt.
Greece, which is struggling to avoid defaulting on a $157 billion bailout it received last year, will probably have to privatize some of its government-owned businesses this year and sell some of the prime real estate it owns along its coasts to avoid drowning in red ink. Its neighbors, the IMF and the EU are going to insist as much.
The US owns quite a bit of property. An analysis by 24/7 Wall St. shows that the federal government owns half of the land in some states. The most recent GSA (US General Services Administration) report about government land ownership was done in 2004. Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) has recently requested a complete accounting of the government’s real estate holdings.
24/7 has created a list of the top ten American states based on the percentage of their land that is owned by the federal government. The data is fascinating. Some California forests and Hawaiian coast, for example, are quite valuable. Suggestions for sales of federal land are bound to be controversial, but that does not mean they aren’t worth considering.
The 24/7 list of states with the most land owned by the federal government is not meant just to be a curiosity. There is more than one way to solve the federal deficit problem, and part of the solution lies in lands sales which would almost certainly include large parcels in this list of states.