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Trim fat before wielding budget ax, adding to tax burden
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As Californians argue and agonize over where the state budget should be cut, the State is literally sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue in the form of surplus and under-utilized property.

Obviously, I'm talking about more than a warehouse of old desks. I'm talking about valuable and sometimes dubious real estate holdings. Among the most valuable holdings retained by the State today are the Los Angeles Coliseum and San Quentin State Prison. California also spends your tax dollars maintaining land in Tahiti and Hawaii.

You might be surprised to know that Caltrans owns a golf course in the Oakland Hills, acquired as part of a long-abandoned highway project during the 1950s. You should be alarmed to learn that Caltrans also owns land being leased to a massage parlor in San Rafael, which may, judging from some salacious Internet postings concerning the establishment, provide customers with more than a rub-down.

Five years ago, I introduced what I believed was a simple, common-sense measure to sell off state-owned surplus lands to generate some much-needed revenue. Similar actions were recommended by the Governor's Performance Review Commission. It makes sense to unload valuable properties that no longer serve any discernable governmental purpose.

Unfortunately, Sacramento and common sense are rarely on speaking terms. You and I might see expensive, unnecessary extra possessions as an opportunity for a lucrative garage sale. The state's entrenched bureaucracy, on the other hand, must suffer from a hoarding disorder - five years and California still owns the properties I have mentioned and more.

In the same way, California is not using some of its most expensive properties in the taxpayers' best interest. Consider, San Quentin Prison. While certainly being utilized for an important public purpose, this facility occupies a large parcel of land in one of the world's most expensive real estate markets. I'm talking about 275 acres of prime waterfront property overlooking the San Francisco Bay. This property could fetch as much as $2 billion.

I authored a measure to close California's most expensive prison to operate and sell the valuable land, which was regrettably blocked. Therefore, the prestigious Marin County zip code and picturesque views will continue to be enjoyed by the likes of Richard Allen Davis, Charles Ng, Scott Peterson and the Night Stalker for the near future.

Selling these lands and structures is more than a missed opportunity to generate revenues. In many instances, they are costing the state money. Why not unload them and turn liabilities into assets? There is no good answer to that question.

By itself, the sale of the Los Angeles Coliseum could net well in excess of $500 million for the state. And, California owns hundreds of properties, including office buildings, private residences, and parking lots, that combine in worth to the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Taxpayers cannot afford to indulge the state of California's pack-rat tendencies any longer. We're grappling with a multi-billion dollar deficit and drowning in bond debt. The governor has proposed reducing state expenditures ten percent across-the-board, closing dozens of state parks, and cutting billions of dollars to our schools and to other vital state programs. Others are pushing for billions of dollars in tax increases.

Before Sacramento starts cutting and taxing, we owe it to the taxpayers, and to California's children, to earnestly pursue innovative methods of raising revenue (no, not taxes) and reducing the costs associated with maintaining California's thousands of state properties.

(Jeff Denham represents the 12th Senate District, which is located squarely in the Central Valley. The counties of Stanislaus, Merced, Madera and San Benito comprise 80 percent of the district.)