Political Animal


January 14, 2012 8:30 AM Arizona reconsiders sale of state capitol

By Steve Benen

A couple of years ago, Republican policymakers in Arizona thought they’d come up with a clever idea: they’d put the state capitol up for sale. Seriously.

For GOP officials, it checked off a lot of boxes: the state needed the money; the sale would signal a real commitment to austerity, and it would be the ultimate symbolic gesture to reinforce the Republican privatization crusade. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed off on the plan and the capitol was, in fact, sold.

As Tim Murphy noted this week, the decision “was perhaps the greatest drunken eBay transaction of all time, except in this case there was no booze involved,” and policymakers have decided it’s time to correct their mistake and buy back their building.

The move will cost the state $105 million out of its current budget surplus. Brewer press aide Matthew Benson said the state has the cash.

Benson acknowledged the state actually got only $81 million for the state House, the Senate and the nine-story executive tower that includes Brewer’s office when it negotiated a “sale-leaseback” arrangement in 2010…

“Most of our Capitol complex, including the building we gather in today, is not ours,” Brewer said in her State of the State speech delivered in the House building. “So … to make all of our Capitol truly ours once again, I’m asking that you send me a bill by Statehood Day that allows me to buy back the Capitol.”

The goal is to get the building back by February 14, the 100th anniversary of Arizona becoming a state.

The fiasco underscores a larger phenomenon: adopting conservative Republican ideas invariably leads to questions such as, “Wait, we did what?” a few years later.

It’s kind of like Americans electing an unhinged majority to the House of Representatives 14 months ago. Like Arizonans selling their own state capitol, it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, only to look more suspect in the clear light of day.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Astrogeek on January 14, 2012 8:36 AM:

    Oh, Janet, why did you forsake us?

  • Ron Byers on January 14, 2012 8:38 AM:

    Wait, Arizona has a surplus? I thought that socialist, fascist, communist Keynan European community organizer had screwed the economy up so bad in 2006-2007 that we will never see the light of day. At least that is what Mitt Romney tells me.

    I wonder how many schools Arizona had to shut down to achieve a surplus.

  • c u n d gulag on January 14, 2012 8:41 AM:

    This kind of drunken behavior has been going on since the beginning of the Republican Party when, after a 3-day cheap-bourbon binge, Lincoln said, "I freed the WHAT!?!?!"

  • johnny canuck on January 14, 2012 8:47 AM:

    And where did the $24 million difference go? Have Arizona real estate values increased so much, or do i smell crony corruption?

  • stormskies on January 14, 2012 8:52 AM:

    And let's remember, yet again, that those politicians, including the ever repulsive Governor Brewer, were ELECTED by a majority of the people living in that state. They are but a symptom of a larger cause, and the larger cause is the very nature of the people who have elected them in the first place.

  • Neil B on January 14, 2012 8:52 AM:

    Yeah, good point - and since when should "commitment to real austerity" be considered a good thing anyway? Well, it isn't. BTW, current "emoprog" and Obama-bashing-prog darling Ron Paul would lead to many regrets too, see this ironically clever takedown: Of Broken Clocks ...

  • max on January 14, 2012 8:54 AM:

    The best approach for Dems and Independents is to let Arizona Repubs continue to self-destruct. Of course if they ask for another shovel to make the hole they are digging even deeper, by all means, hand them one.

  • ComradeAnon on January 14, 2012 8:57 AM:

    This helps to explain McCain.

  • Danp on January 14, 2012 9:11 AM:

    In the spirit of austerity, Arizona should buy themselves a trailer park and conduct business from there.

  • robert mcclellan on January 14, 2012 9:51 AM:

    If they are paying $105 million they are getting ripped off. The “capitol”, really three buildings, looks like an abandoned tire factory.

  • Crusty the Clown on January 14, 2012 9:57 AM:

    I'm just a clown and no one need pay any attention to anything I say, but....

    I've been out-clowned!! Apparently the Arizona climate is ideal for the propagation of clowns. Quick, we need to organize an emergency airdrop of care packages for Arizona. Each package will contain one (1) regulation clown wig (orange, blue, or green), one (1) regulation clown nose (red), and two (2) regulation clown shoes (particolored, large, floppy). At a minimum, we need enough for each member of the state legislature plus the governor and the lt. governor. Anyone have any idea what that amounts to?

  • Anonymous on January 14, 2012 10:28 AM:

    In the spirit of austerity, Arizona should buy themselves a trailer park and conduct business from there.


  • kevo on January 14, 2012 10:31 AM:

    A profanity laced decree
    regarding the Arizona GOP
    may not do justice
    to their bottomless pit
    of depravity! -Kevo

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 14, 2012 10:32 AM:

    It was a very good idea then and buying it back is a great idea now!

    But the bullshit liberal media better not investigate which of her campaign contributions is making 10's of millions of dollars of profit from the transactions.

  • BC on January 14, 2012 10:49 AM:

    C'mon, it's illegal to pass a bill giving campaign contributors and cronies $24 big ones. This is just a means of giving your friends public money.

  • jcricket on January 14, 2012 10:54 AM:

    A couple of years ago the capitol was sold for $81MM -
    Now, the state is buying it back for $105MM -

    Someone gets a $24MM profit for a two year investment. Hmmmm. Wonder if it is a close ally of the governor?

    Of course, this means that the Arizona taxpayer gets to take a $24MM loss.

    Once again proving that conservative republicans have no ethical problem with privatizing profits for their cronies and socializing losses for the rest of us.

  • Oh my on January 14, 2012 11:10 AM:

    "We have done everything that we could possibly do .........(12 second pause). ..........................laughter... (another 4 second pause)..........we have did [sic] what was right for Arizona."


  • schtick on January 14, 2012 11:18 AM:

    Ok, so Arizona sold the capitol for 81 mil. How much did it cost them to put up the sale? And now it will cost them 105 mil to buy back. How much besides the buying price will it cost? Who got the money? How much from the fed are they getting to cover the rough spots?

    Kevo, spot on!

  • biggerbox on January 14, 2012 11:21 AM:

    It's clearly a way to transfer millions of state dollars to some crony.

    Otherwise, the way you'd handle it is to use eminent domain to take the property for the state, and pay the current owner a 'fair market value' of less then he paid the state for it two years ago.

  • Patrick Star on January 14, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Wait, they sold it for 81 mil, then they changed their minds and decided to buy it back for 105 mil? Huh? What a bunch of incompetent dumbasses! And stormskies is absolutely right - none of this would be possible without the enablement of a majority of the voters of Arizona, home of America's Sheriff, Joe Arapaio, the Bull Conner of our time.

  • boctaoe on January 14, 2012 11:51 AM:

    I'm curious why they decided it was not a good idea to sell the Capital, etc.? Using the computers in the library didn't work out?

  • cld on January 14, 2012 12:02 PM:

    Yet no one dares call the conservative brain retarded.

  • mmm on January 14, 2012 12:59 PM:

    Please tell me the person who bought the Capitol, then sold it back to them at a profit was a Democrat.

  • mudwall jackson on January 14, 2012 1:59 PM:

    Danp on January 14, 2012 9:11 AM:

    In the spirit of austerity, Arizona should buy themselves a trailer park and conduct business from there.

    or maybe they could borrow one of joe arpaio's tents ....

  • exlibra on January 14, 2012 2:20 PM:

    I've been trying to find it somewhere in the small print but my eyesight isn't so good any more, so, can someone tell me... Surely, the legislators and the Governor gave up their pay before going to the much more drastic step of selling public property of historical value, no? And now they're going to make up the 24mil difference out of their overloaded and not-at-all-austere private savings accounts, right?

  • TCinLA on January 14, 2012 2:45 PM:

    I've never been able to figure out how anyone intelligent enough to be a Democrat would move to Hell, er, I mean Arizona. As far as Arizona Republicans are concerned, this is what happens when the heat destroys what few brain cells you had to begin with.

  • Atrabilious on January 14, 2012 2:56 PM:

    Not only is somebody raking in $24m profit for a two year investment, that somebody also took in two years of leasing fees. Anybody know how much that would add up to?

  • boatboy_srq on January 14, 2012 3:10 PM:

    I'm with most of the comments: this just reeks of crony capitalism.

    The press are all over it as a bad decision. But selling public property at a discount, at the height of the real estate bust, then buying it back less than three years later at a hefty markup, is all stereotypical Conservatist thinking, and little more than a transfer of wealth from the citizenry at large to the small cadre who bought the property and are now making a healthy profit. According to Conservatist thought, this is the way it's supposed to work. I'd be very surprised if what we're seeing now wasn't the plan all along.

    In a way, it's a pity they're buying it back with unanticipated state revenues: it would do the AZ state government a world of good to experience the shock of imminent homelessness because they couldn't pay the lease.

  • Texas Aggie on January 14, 2012 3:25 PM:

    Sell low, buy high??? Didn't some republican mention that the government should be run like a business? And where did the myth ever come from that republicans are the party that knows the most about business?

    The republicans lost $24 million on the sale, plus the amount paid for two years rent. That really doesn't sound like someone in charge has a business head. To teach them, shouldn't they be responsible for the difference, not the taxpayers? Otherwise they'll never learn and will continue blithely shoveling taxpayer funds to private individuals with political connections.

  • POed Lib on January 14, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Can outside parties bid? I'm thinking about it. I could buy the capital, throw those assholes out on their butts, and turn the whole thing into a giant flea market.

  • -syzygy- on January 14, 2012 3:56 PM:

    TCinLA is sorta right, some of us were moved to Arizona, and got stuck here, and it has been an eternal labor to try and change the state.
    Not all areas are as weird as the extended Phoenix region and other smaller towns. It's the retirement home for all those retirees who couldn't afford and didn't want to live near them there 'Kenyans' and J---J---J, ---um 'non-Christians' in Florida. So we have the religiously insane, Wild-West gun totin' anti-brown 'Muricans, a sort of Alabama-West, a Teabagger Heaven.
    Generating a surplus to buy back the buildings was easy. All they had to do was to stop funding commie, Socialist, liberal stuff---like Health Care and Education.

  • John in TX on January 14, 2012 4:09 PM:

    "Most of our Capitol complex, including the building we gather in today, is not ours," Brewer said in her State of the State speech delivered in the House building. "So, to make all of our Capitol truly ours once again, I'm asking that you send me a bill by Statehood Day that allows me to buy back the Capitol."

    If I didn't know better I'd think that was one of Mayor Quimby's lines of dialog from The Simpsons. How those scriptwriters, let alone The Onion, can parody fools like these people has got to be an incredibly difficult job.

  • Doug on January 14, 2012 5:48 PM:

    Crony capitalism at its' very best (and worst)! Has no enterprising journalist in Arizona bothered to look up who bought the property, who received the two year's rent and who will get the profit?
    One would think the taxpayers, even dyed-in-the-wool Republican/Teabaggers might like to know where THEIR money has gone. Presuming, of course, such types even bother to pay taxes...

  • montag on January 14, 2012 6:30 PM:

    Has that bimbo never heard of "eminent domain"? She could have one of her judge buddies value the capitol at $150M and really rip off the state.

  • Kenneth Almquist on January 14, 2012 9:06 PM:

    I thought this post was a parody until I checked the links. Wow.

  • Crissa on January 15, 2012 5:17 AM:

    Why do they need to buy it back?

    Isn't selling something you can't actually leave and then buying it back kinda like a round about way of embezzling funds?

  • ThoughtCriminal on January 15, 2012 3:34 PM:

    I'm pretty sure that this is the ONLY real estate in Arizona that has appreciated value in the past two years. In a few years, I expect the Arizona Republicans will sell it again at a loss.

  • Jack Hammer on January 15, 2012 10:40 PM:

    It's the kind of short-term, quarterly-profit, gimmicky thinking that is not really compatible with public office.

  • MIke Wells on January 16, 2012 10:57 AM:

    What a stupid twit. God, I'm glad I moved out of that place, although Utah isn't exactly run by level headed people, either.

    As for why the cost has gone up $24 million... It could be a couple of things:

    They could have gotten lowballed on the original sale. They were obviously desperate to make this a deal, that they would have taken anything for these buildings.

    The other possibility is the same concept, but in the opposite direction: Once again, they're desperate, and the current owners know it, and stand to make a tidy profit off of this desperation.

    Of course the third possibility wouldn't surprise me either: The original deal could have guaranteed a minimum profit, no matter what.