Curiosity About the Sale of Assets

This news isn’t sufficiently filled out, yet, to offer a firm reaction:

The University of Rhode Island’s Providence campus would move out of the historic Shepard Building to an unknown location under state plans to sell government real estate released on Friday evening.

The state Board of Elections would be moved out of its current Providence headquarters on Branch Avenue, and the state Medical Examiner’s Office would move from its laboratory on Orms Street in the next two years, according to the proposals from an ad hoc committee charged with finding state savings. The recommendations do not say where either of those agencies would go.

The real estate sales are part of a wider effort by a group of state officials and groups with business before the state, known as the Efficiency Commission, to come up with at least $10 million in money-saving ideas for the budget year that starts July 1.

Efficiency is a good thing, and if it doesn’t make sense for government to continue owning particular properties, then it shouldn’t, but if the efficiencies and the sale of assets result from the government’s inability to continue paying its bills, that’s a whole nother thing.  Once the state government collects the estimated $16–25 million in sales revenue, the assets are gone, but the spending is still there.

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The article states that moving out of the buildings will save $2.5 million per year in “operating costs,” but note, in particular, that “those figures do not include the cost of finding new homes for the current occupants.”  If rent and other costs to house these government agencies elsewhere are roughly a wash, then we’re back to selling assets for its own sake.  And that can be an ominous sign if the government isn’t giving a clearer rationale for why it would do so other than “efficiency.”

One can’t help but wonder, too, what sort of tax increase the City of Providence will see if the state government hands off property to a private owner.

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