Cash-strapped California turns to a tag sale


POSTED: Friday, August 28, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. » Ever wanted to buy a used Chevrolet Cavalier signed by a budget-challenged governor? Now's your chance!

In a maneuver that signals both the pluck and ingenuity of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California's desperate finances, officials have been frantically preparing this week for a two-day sell-off of items drawn from every corner of the state's pack-rat bureaucracy.

The event, starting today at a warehouse here in the capital, is being billed as the Great California Garage Sale, and it is the largest such surplus sale since the state last rolled out its unneeded odds and ends in 2004.

“;We're going to have 6,000 items at this sale,”; said Fred Aguiar, the secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency, which is overseeing the sale. “;There's furniture, computers and office equipment. It's a great opportunity for Californians.”;

Ordered by Schwarzenegger in July during a budget crunch, the sale is also an opportunity for the state's agencies to clean out closets, drawers, garages and back rooms.

Among the ticketed items for sale will be a grand piano from 1862, complete with ivory keys and decades' of dust, which is offered by the Department of Parks and Recreation. There are two collections of souvenir bobblehead dolls from the 2003 Sacramento Kings confiscated by the California Highway Patrol and going for $15 (decorative stands included). Then there are the oddities of unknown origin, including a songbook from a German opera, “;Der Waffenschmied,”; which may be overpriced at $3.

Still, there seem to be bargains galore. The state has put rows of laptops on the market, ranging from $75 to $275, alongside dozens of desktop computers at similar prices stacked like cinder blocks on long tables in the warehouse. BlackBerrys, Palm Pilots and cell phones can be had for as little as $5, with old-fashioned television cameras (tape, not digital) going for $100. There is even stuff for the outdoor set: a women's 8-iron for 50 cents, an ax for $2 and a surfboard for $100.

How much the sale will net is unknown, of course—Aguiar guessed the state could clear $1 million—but one thing is certain: it will not be anywhere near the $10.5 billion California needs to borrow to get through the current fiscal year. The state's budget crisis includes a $24 billion gap and the issuing of some $2 billion in IOUs.

The biggest-ticket items in the sale are likely to be about 650 passenger vehicles ordered sold by Schwarzenegger as part of a 15 percent reduction in the state's fleet. They will be auctioned off whereas almost all the other items have price tags.

The governor, a Republican who has been actively publicizing the sale online and elsewhere, calls the sale the end result of a “;promise to eliminate waste in state government.”;

“;This is a win-win for the state and shoppers,”; said Schwarzenegger, who ordered the similar sale in 2004.

Among the vehicles are five “;CHiPS”;-style BMW motorcycles, dozens of former highway patrol cars, and an untold number of Chevy Cavaliers, apparently California's governmental car of choice. The governor even autographed the visors of some of those vehicles to help move merchandise.

Not that attracting buyers should be much of a problem. Aguiar said he expected crowds to start lining up well before dawn on Friday and Saturday, days on which temperatures in Sacramento are expected to top 100 degrees. State officials were warning buyers to hydrate—the warehouse is not air-conditioned—and stay nimble.

“;When we open the doors,”; Aguiar said, “;the best advice is to stand back.”;