During a series of breakout sessions on the first day of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Real Estate Summit in Boston, industry leaders last week weighed in on an assortment of timely issues. The federal budget deficit (conservatively estimated to total $8.5 trillion over the next 10 years combined), the political climate in Washington, and the art of risk taking were among the topics on the minds of panelists. What follows are a few snippets from the panel discussions.

Peter Linneman, professor of real estate, finance, and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, commenting on the budget deficit:

“Fundamentally, I don’t see our way out of the budget deficit, even with a very strong recovery. I’m probably the most bullish out there saying we could generate 3 million to 3.5 million jobs a year. Even if we do that, we’re still at a 7% unemployment rate. We’ve still got a huge budget deficit that is unimaginable. And California is hopeless.

“Yet the last time I felt this way was 1978. We were two years away from Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan, and all the improvements they brought. I never saw that two years ahead of time.”

Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, gauging his level of interest in the U.S. commercial real estate market:

“I continue to be an optimist about the U.S., if no other reason than I think we are going to alter the current political situation. If the current political situation is indicative of the next half century, I think we’re screwed.”

Stephen Furnary, CEO and chairman of ING Clarion, talking about the criteria for success in the commercial real estate industry today:

“I tell the newer people to the business that you have to do everything you can to develop your judgment. The people that have judgment win. They don’t lose money, and they get the importance of risk management. They understand the criteria to succeed in a real estate investment.”

Geoff Colvin, senior editor of Fortune magazine, speaking on risk management:

“A consulting firm conducted a poll in 2007. It happened to release the results in the summer of 2007 just weeks before the wheels fell off the real estate mortgage business and the whole economy. The poll asked people across industries this question: ‘How confident are you that you have identified and are managing the most important risks in your business?’

“What was so striking is that almost all the top executives responded very modestly to this question. Most of them said, ‘We’re not really sure we’ve got a good handle on the risks in our industry.’

“In fact, there were only two industries in which the executives were very confident. They said, “Yes, we do have a handle on this. Our risks are identified and well managed.’ These two industries were financial services and real estate. It is always when the risks appear least, that they are probably [the greatest].”