OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma could generate millions of dollars by selling some of the estimated 9,000 state-owned properties and using the money to help fund basic infrastructure needs such as upkeep on the state Capitol and improvements to roads and bridges, a state lawmaker said Tuesday.
Rep. T.W. Shannon, who is in line to become speaker of the House in 2012, conducted an interim study before the House Government Modernization Committee to explore the idea of selling surplus state property.
"When state government owns 9,000 buildings, there is clearly room to liquidate some of those holdings," said Shannon, R-Lawton, who was elected speaker-designate by the House GOP caucus last month. "At a time when dollars are very limited, it is inexcusable for agencies to cling to expensive facilities that are no longer necessary to carry out the agencies' missions or basic operations of government."
Shannon wrote a bill last session that directs the Department of Central Services to compile a list of all state-owned property and narrow down the 5 percent "most underutilized state properties." The bill, which took effect Nov. 1, requires DCS to publish a report by the end of the year.
John Morrison, interim director of DCS, said the agency currently is drafting the rules and developing a process for how it acquires data from various agencies. The agency will then determine how to decide which properties are underutilized. Morrison said much of the concern from state agencies is how the revenue generated from the sale of surplus property would be used.
Shannon said he would oppose any effort to divert proceeds to the state's general fund, arguing instead it should be used to fund capital improvement needs for many of the state's aging and decaying buildings. An engineering analysis of the state Capitol found mortar between its massive limestone panels was disintegrating, prompting the erection of barricades that prevent pedestrian traffic around the south side of the building. Repairs, along with revamping the outdated electrical, plumbing and other systems, could cost as much as $130 million.
"It's a symbol of our democracy, and certainly that needs to be one (priority), but we've got infrastructure needs all over the state that resemble those of the state Capitol," Shannon said. "I think we all see very clearly that the money should be reinvested there. It doesn't need to be used as part of the regular budget."
Oklahoma already is on the right track by first emphasizing the importance of establishing a detailed database, said Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform for the Reason Foundation, a California-based think-tank that promotes libertarian principles.
"The real reason you do this is to assess the value of what you own," Gilroy said. "The less you own, the less you have to maintain."
Gilroy said besides the savings from not having to maintain some properties, the state can see added benefits of moving state-owned properties to the private sector and onto tax rolls.
Gilroy said a similar effort undertaken in Georgia generated $43.2 million in revenue over five years from the sale of surplus property and an additional $8.5 million from the restructuring and consolidation of leases.
The committee also examined recent changes to the state's purchasing system and learned Oklahoma has saved an estimated $20 million over the last two fiscal years through renegotiating state contracts in an effort to leverage the state's buying power, according to State Purchasing Director Scott Schlotthauer.