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home : opinion : columns May 26, 2016

10/14/2012 6:01:00 AM
Local Column: Use assets to erase U.S. debt

Rich Thurlow

I've heard that if you hang onto the same clothes long enough, eventually some of what you have in your closet will be back in style.

I gave up on being in style years ago. When I look at the shirts in my closet, I'm inclined to pick one that I don't consider itchy. This is tricky, because what I consider itchy can change from day to day with one exception - ties always cause itchy.

Along with clothes coming back in style are stories coming back to the forefront of the news. Or maybe not. If I'm reading the political mood correctly, it's probably a maybe not.

Such is the case with Proposition 120. If approved, it would amend the state constitution and take control of all federal government land that is not part of an Indian reservation, a military base or was purchased directly from the state of Arizona with the consent of the Legislature.

That's millions of acres, by the way.

I'm not sure of the history of federal versus state land disputes in Arizona, but back in the 1990s it was a hot topic in Nevada when I was working at another newspaper. Back then, and to this day, about 90 percent of the land in Nevada was under the control of the federal government. That kind of tells you how the dispute played out back then.

But it was news long enough for Dick Carver, a Nye County, Nev., commissioner (same as a supervisor here in Arizona), to land on the cover of Time magazine and to be made a fool of on one of the network nightly news shows. In it, Carver was seen racing around his property on an ATV. Somehow the clip made it seem like he was a child.

Carver helped the network make its case that he was a fool, catching him on camera pointing out a strip you can see when you hold a $100 bill up to the light. That strip, Carver told his guest from the network, was actually a device that allowed the government to track his movements.

Carver died a few years later, making it much easier for the government to track his movements, but by that time the cause had moved to the back burner.

My own take on the issue has evolved over time, moving from a position that most federal land should be transferred to the states, to a position that federal lands could be the only thing that can keep us from drowning in debt. For that reason, I'm opposed to Proposition 120 - but only if the president, Congress and 51 percent of the population think my idea is brilliant and are ready to move forward.

Here's the idea: U.S. debt exceeds $16 trillion, while the federal government owns millions of acres, much of it in the western U.S.

The plan is that over the course of 20 years or so the U.S. auctions off all that land to the highest bidder, with all proceeds earmarked for debt reduction. There are some who will fret about the possibility of, say, the Chinese buying huge chunks of land. We can allay those fears by making the Chinese deal with the staff at Kingman Planning and Zoning prior to developing any of the land. The Chinese will be so discouraged the land will be back on the market within a year.

A companion constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget is also part of the deal.

I suspect the national debt would be erased in 10 years, since all that additional land in private hands would spark economic activity that would generate taxes. By 2025, the U.S. would officially be standing in tall cotton, as they say in places where tall cotton is a good thing.

Then maybe I'd celebrate and go out and buy a new shirt.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2012
Article comment by: Jack Shepherd

This has to the dum pitch of the day. With no fore thought of land use, or who would get the clean up blii for the failed projects fom tree clearing ,to factories, and slums of tomorrow built today.

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Article comment by: Here's My IOU, Good Buddy

By the way Thurlow, if your idea goes through to have the Chinese deal with the city P&Z, that would only mean a downtown mega-complex for the city development czar. We just got him stuffed in a closet -- do you really want him back out front with a city-bought Chinese Rosetta Stone program?

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Article comment by: Here's My IOU, Good Buddy

Good grief Thurlow -- don't you know that politicians just can't keep their sticky fingers off any money they come across? They have this cute little trick of leaving a worthless IOU as they light-finger off with the loot. What you have left is what we have today -- a bottomless pit full of IOU's.

Until the (expletive deleted) are purged from DC, nothing is going to change. Dream on.

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Article comment by: tj denton

like i said before, trust the federal government. keep staring into the light. trust the federal government. they love you. they will take care of you. trust the federal government...

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012
Article comment by: V Stokes

I guess few people understand the meaning of "tongue in cheek". That's the way I read it anyway.

I surely do HOPE that's the way it was meant.

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012
Article comment by: Joe Schmo

As usual, Thurlow has no idea what he is talking about. City P&Z has no control over federal lands, which are minimal at best within the city limits.

Also I'm sure the real estate industry would just love to see millions of acres of former federal land suddenly dumped onto the market for sale. What does Thurlow think is going to happen to the value of existing private land when that occurs?

What about the interests of hunters, outdoor sportsmen, and outdoor recreation around here? What's going to happen when hundreds of thousands of acres of BLM lands end up in private hands and becomes off limits to public access?

Transfering control of federal lands to the state is a bad idea and transfering that land to private hands is an even worse idea.

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: Lewis Mumford

As usual you know nothing about Federal lands and less about the local development process. P&Z only enforces locally enacted ordinances. It is easy to take a cheap shot at P&Z, with absolutely no specifics, especially after the urban planning horrors of Pahrump. For once why don't you get some facts to back up you missives, but like your right wing friends, facts are tailored to support a pre-selected position, which are usually erroneous.

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Bergstrand

Suppose the Chinese buy huge tracts of land and turn each one of them into an "Embassy". So much for Planning and Zoning.

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: harris stein

Are you serious Rich? What about the Germans? They have as much cash sitting around as the Chinese and they could wait out the Kingman Planning and Zoning Board.

More important, are our legislators in Phoenix serious? They know this is a waste of time and money but yet they push this whacko nonsense on an unsuspecting population hoping that enough whackos will vote yes.

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: Steven Robinson

Not a bad idea at all Rich, except that I believe that instead of selling ALL the land, (of course neither of us proposes selling National Parks or Wilderness Areas, I think) some should be placed for homesteading, perhaps without the mineral rights.

And yes, there would be HUGE economic growth and improved tax base for state & local governments as well. The United States of America would once again become the "Shining City on a Hill".

However, the progressives/socialists/liberals who hate free enterprise will fight this proposal to their dying breath. We need to fight back.

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: nnp .....

The true U.S. debt is many times $16 trillion, considering unfunded obligations, and must be much more now after Ben Bernanke $9 trillion theft. Pretending we're Greece and auctioning off Arizona's equivalent of Aegean islands and almost everything else but the unborn probably won't help as much as you envision. Give us some advance notice of your next prescient column on any local twists of the East-West scramble for resources. Meanwhile, I'm keeping an eye on that great obfuscated drama playing out in the Middle East - ostensibly over an Arab Spring and Iranian weaponry, but actually over natural gas (the eco-friendly EU, having dumped coal, is being wooed by Russian/Shiite interests on the one hand, Israeli/Sunni on the other - research the Tamara and especially Leviathan discoveries off Israel's coast). If this is too discouraging, you could always suggest to Arizona's corrupt law enforcement and political officials that they donate some of their ill-gotten loot (graft, extortion, etc.) to pay off the debt.

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

National debt is like a 40 year mortgage, many take them out not even knowing if they will live long enough to pay them off! The difference with national debt is its a non human entity, immortal, has possibility of thousands of years of existence if one uses Roman Empire as example and if not as some great empires do fall, the world goes on!

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