published Saturday, October 8th, 2011

A giant federal garage sale?

There is talk in Washington about raising money to reduce deficits by selling off unneeded federal government properties.

What kind of properties? Well, among them is 840-acre Plum Island, N.Y., which is close to Long Island. In its attempt to sell the island, which used to be the site of the federal Animal Disease Center, the government is marketing its "sandy shoreline, beautiful views and a harbor," The New York Times reported.

In addition, little-used vehicles, an airstrip and a number of other federal possessions are under consideration for being sold off by Washington to raise money.

What might do more to reduce federal deficits would be selling off some of the literally hundreds of millions of acres of land that are owned -- often unproductively -- by the federal government.

As Leonard Gilroy of the Reason Foundation notes: "The federal government owns nearly 30 percent of all the land in the country. In the West, those numbers soar even higher. The federal government controls more than 84 percent of the land in Nevada, more than 50 percent of the land in Alaska, Utah, Oregon and Idaho, and more than 40 percent of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming."

There are, of course, legitimate reasons for the federal government to own some land -- for federal highways and national parks, among other purposes.

But federal ownership of more than 600 million acres of U.S. land is excessive, to say the least.

Federal lands that do not serve a legitimate, constitutionally justified federal purpose ought to be sold.

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"management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people."

That's the current goal of federal land ownership, and selling it off to pay a few bills today would be like selling your house or car to pay a credit card debt. You might pay off the debt, but you won't benefit in the long run.

If you believe you have a more productive use for some given federal property, fair enough, exercise your right to petition the government. On an individual scale, not the broad strokes this editorial represents.

October 8, 2011 at 10:46 a.m.
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