Close loopholes in sweetheart land deals

If Assembly Bill 312 is still alive today, we urge its passage to slam shut the door on sweetheart deals between governments and private developers.

The bill requires government land sales go to public auction, thus closing a couple of gaping loopholes in accountability that invite abuse and corruption. State law currently allows property to be sold by sealed bids or to be traded for land of equal value. We've seen the potential perils of such arrangements.

The most recent example came in Las Vegas, when land adjacent to McCarran International Airport was swapped to a real-estate broker, who quickly resold it for millions of dollars in profit.

Some government officials and economic-development leaders are urging amendments to AB312 that would add exemptions and water down the bill's intent. They argue they must have the flexibility to work out deals with companies who might want to relocate, or developments that would somehow otherwise greatly benefit the community.

If that sounds a little bit too cozy, you understand where the dangers lurk.

Government involvement in economic development is a rather tricky business to begin with. People today generally accept a certain amount of recruitment and incentives, but too often it turns into a game of one-upmanship that gets governments competing against each other to see who can whip up the best deal.

What's wrong with selling to the highest bidder? Not much.

It might not go to the person or company that local leaders think has the best plan or the greatest potential or the deepest pockets. But that's kind of how the free-market system works.

The only people who would benefit would be taxpayers, who would be assured they're not being taken for a ride.


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