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Ariz. may sell Capitol buildings to raise cash

/ Source: The Associated Press

Desperate for cash, Arizona state lawmakers are considering selling the House and Senate buildings, then leasing them back over several years before assuming ownership again.

Dozens of other state buildings may also be sold off and leased back as the state grapples with a huge budget deficit.

Other "candidate properties" range from state prisons and the mental hospital to run-of-the-mill state office buildings and Kartchner Caverns State Park, the crown jewel of the state parks system.

Under the complex financial arrangement, state government services would continue without interruption while the state picks up a cash infusion estimated by Capitol number-crunchers at $735 million.

Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday she hadn't made any decisions on which state properties should be sold.

For investors, the deal means long-term lease payments from a stable source.

"What they want is an asset that you're not going to walk away from," said Tom Manos, Gov. Jan Brewer's top fiscal adviser.

"They really don't care about the asset. What they care about is how essential is the asset," Manos added, citing talks with bankers.

Legislation to set the refinancing plan in motion is part of a budget-balancing plan being considered by the Legislature on Wednesday for the fiscal year that began July 1.

It also was included in a budget that the Legislature approved July 1, but that part of it and many others were vetoed the same day by Brewer because it didn't include her proposal for a temporary sales tax.

'Candidate properties'
The list of candidate properties was reported Wednesday by The Arizona Republic. It had been disclosed previously that prisons could be involved.

Under the latest proposal, the state would seek a series of lease arrangements spanning as much as 20 years, the Republic reported. According to budget analysts, deals that would generate the targeted $735 million in revenue would mean state lease payments totaling $60 million to $70 million a year.

Over two decades, that would add up to at least $1.2 billion in lease payments. Once the leases expire, the state would again take ownership of the properties.

The properties legislation does not say which specific properties would be sold, and a candidates list provided to lawmakers only specifies the price to replace properties, not the amounts each would fetch in a refinancing.

Arizona faces a projected $3.4 billion shortfall on a budget with spending of $10.7 billion.