Last week, the Arizona Republic reported that the Grand Canyon State, faced with a 30 percent budget deficit, is looking to raise $735 million by selling its state properties, including the House and Senate buildings, to private investors. The state would then lease space in the buildings from the investors until it has enough money to buy the properties back again.

The newspaper’s reporters, Matthew Benson and JJ Hensley, call the move “a sign of desperate times.”

They’re right. Arizona’s tactic is a fancy iteration of an age-old fiscal sin: borrowing long-term to pay for operating costs. What Arizona is doing differs little from raising long-term bonds and then having to pay the debt back month by month.

For that matter, the state’s plan resembles individuals’ resorting to pawnshops when they run into financial trouble — selling off their jewelery, guns, and the like, and then promising themselves that they’ll buy it back when times are better.

The one-shot infusion of cash will only obscure the real problem: in the past eight years, Arizona’s spending has outpaced population and inflation by 41 percentage points. Arizona was floating within a massive real-estate bubble, now burst. 

Tax revenues derived directly or indirectly from the bubble won’t be returning anytime soon — so Arizona must either raise taxes (something the public doesn’t want) or cut spending, not delay its decision and make its long-term condition worse by adding a new debt-like burden.

It would be a different story if Arizona was permanently consolidating its office space and selling the surplus off for good — but this is not that.

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