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Governor McDonnell Signs Bill Creating Inventory of Virginia State-Owned Land

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The Virginia General Assembly passed and Governor McDonnell signed SB 1257, “An Act to amend and reenact §§ 2.2-1136, 2.2-1153, and 2.2-1156 of the Code of Virginia, relating to the Department of General Services (DGS); sale of surplus real property; inventory of state-owned land.” This bill by Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel (identical on introduction to HB 2003 by Delegate Jim LeMunyon), requires DGS to conduct an inventory of all real property owned by state departments, agencies and institutions by January 1, 2012, and update the inventory at least annually thereafter.

The bill requires DGS to provide a listing of surplus properties on the Department’s website, to include parcel identification consistent with national spatial data standards in addition to a street address. This will provide greater transparency into state government. It was first discussed in previous Bacon’s Rebellion columns (Wanted: A Virginia Land Inventory; Improving Virginia’s Transportation without Raising Taxes: It Can Be Done; A Virginia Land Inventory)
Although Governor McDonnell has ordered all agencies to inventory all Old Dominion real property, such an action had not previously occurred since the Allen Administration. A Blue Ribbon Strike Force on Government Reform appointed by Governor Allen recommended that “all state agencies should inventory and justify the retention of each individual real estate holding.” Allen also formed the Governor’s Commission on Surplus Property, leading the way to identifying the “Elko” property in Henrico, which ultimately became the site of the Qimonda semi-conductor plant, as surplus. The idea has enjoyed bipartisan support since, including endorsement from Governor Warner’s Commission on Efficiency and Effectiveness, chaired by former Governor Wilder, and the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), but was not done. Governor Warner’s Commission on Efficiency and Effectiveness found that Virginia did not have an adequate portfolio management system for handling real estate in the Commonwealth and suggested that the possible beneficial sales and public-private development of surplus property be maximized by developing better methods for designating property as surplus and by re-examining the opportunities for property that has already been designated as surplus. As of 2006 the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) found these reforms had not been fully implemented.

Such inventories have been successful in other states. For example, Georgia now operates the Building, Land and Lease Inventory of Property (BLLIP), providing an interactive web-based geographic information system (GIS) designed to enable registered users to query, search and generate reports using real time information about state owned and leased properties and buildings. Ohio has implemented a Comprehensive Inventory of State Real Property, a database of 53,010 distinct state-owned parcels located throughout all of Ohio’s 88 counties.

A comprehensive list of land and assets, up-to-date with their current use, will allow Virginia to assess whether public property is being used and maintained in the most efficient manner possible. My colleague Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation testified before the Senate Finance Committee on SB 1257.  He’s said, “Whether finding ways to consolidate workspaces, putting land to better use, or uncovering excessive and unnecessary maintenance costs, real property inventories are an important tool for state policymakers to make good management decisions with that is currently not available in the Commonwealth. A well managed, regularly updated inventory can also help save the state money by identifying properties that can be sold; collecting up-front cash and expanding the tax base by letting the private sector develop and use the land and assets that the Commonwealth no longer needs.” Anthony and I have collaborated on papers on state and local land inventories and a Federal land inventory.

As originally introduced, the LeMunyon and Vogel bills propose to allocate 50 percent of the revenue from the sale of surplus land to the Transportation Trust Fund. Unfortunately, that provision was removed from the bill, along mostly partisan lines. It is discouraging that Democrats in the House and Senate opposed an innovative way to put more money into one of the Commonwealth’s (and certainly Northern Virginia’s) highest priorities. Hopefully, this issue will be revisited next year.

In what should come as no surprise, the Federal government also lacks a current, accurate inventory of the land it owns. In the coming days, the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act, a proposal similar to Virginia’s new law, will soon be introduced in Congress.

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