Should state assets be sold to cut down on $8 billion debt?

MADISON (WITI) -- Should Gov. Scott Walker be given the authority to sell state assets without competitive bids or legislative oversight? A plan before the Legislature's Budget Committee would do just that, but some Democrats are saying "not so fast."

Gov. Walker wants broad authority to be able to sell state assets to pay down Wisconsin's government debt.  His critics however, say that could be a costly idea.

"It doesn't smell right. We shouldn't be selling off state assets. We certainly shouldn't be selling them off under no bid contracts," Rep. Jon Richards (D - Milwaukee) said.

Richards says he will vote against the proposal when it comes before the Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday, May 21st.

"I have no problem with the Department of Administration looking at all state property," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R - Burlington) said.

Vos supports giving the Walker Administration the power to sell state property if there's legislative oversight.

"Having an outside entrepreneur look at something and say 'is there a way we can do this smarter and get it on the tax rolls, so it's paying property taxes to support schools and municipalities and counties' might be the better long-run answer for all of us," Vos said.

Richards says the state could end up paying more in the long run. For example, selling a power plant, only to have to pay the utility for heating costs at government buildings.

"That's why you have agencies in the state government that can do a cost benefit analysis, five, 10, 15 years down the road are we better off for this decision or not?" Richards said.

Wisconsin is about $8 billion in debt, and Gov. Walker wants the authority to sell state-owned property as a way to pay it off.

"At a time when people are so concerned about state debt that using assets that are no longer needed to pay down debt makes a lot of sense," Vos said.

Under the proposal, Gov. Walker would have the authority to negotiate with single buyers and not go through a public bidding process. That could mean power plants, highways, prisons and even university buildings could be sold.

"The way that their proposal is drafted, is that the Board of Regents or any other agency that's using the building doesn't have a say in that decision.  I don't think that's right," Richards said.

"The intent is to not do anything that would ever hurt the ability of the university to fundraise or ask private individuals to donate, but if there are assets on campus, or pieces of land that the DOT owns, or facilities that no longer work with what the state of Wisconsin is looking at, it does make sense to sell them off," Vos said.

"The Department of Administration at the state Capitol says it hasn't yet compiled a complete list of all of the properties that could be sold.