Stateline Story

Cash-Strapped Officials Weigh Sponsorships

An advertising ploy that brings big bucks to professional sports teams -- selling naming rights to the stadiums and arenas where they compete is the newest revenue-raising wrinkle for some cash-strapped state and local governments.

Just this month, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) endorsed Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to sell naming rights to state-owned buildings. Madigan would exempt the state capitol, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and other historically significant sites.

"Illinois, like every other state, has a budget deficit to work with, and any dime you can make this way probably is preferable than levying taxes on the general public," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told Stateline.org.

Not everyone is quite so enthusiastic. State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), a U.S. Senate candidate, said the plan is like having "bake sales for state government" and raises ethical questions about seeking handouts from state-regulated companies.

"It's an unhealthy relationship, and the proceeds are small in relation to the state deficit," Rauschenberger said.

If Blagojevich's plan is adopted, Illinois would be the first state to sell advertising space but not the first political entity to do so. School buses in some Colorado districts already carry ads for soda pop and a hamburger franchise, and some New York state school buses advertise clothing. Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas also allow school bus ads, according to the Education Commission of the States.

The concept even extends to the courts. Texas State District Judge Jim Wallace wants to sell naming rights to a state-run Houston drug treatment program. Eighty percent of Wallace's daily docket is drug-related, and corporate support would show a business is "willing to give back something to the community by participating in a program that would be beneficial to everyone," he said.

"It just makes good sense," Wallace said. So far, there have been no takers.

Proponents of raising revenue through corporate sponsorship said budget-weary states could avoid tax hikes by exploiting their primary resource-- naming rights to state property. Opponents argue that sponsorship plans would turn state buildings and parks into giant billboards and create conflicts for officials soliciting contributions from bidders who might be state-regulated corporations.

Environmentalists helped torpedo a Massachusetts plan to sell naming rights to state property in April because they hated the possibility of Henry Thoreau's Walden Pond becoming "Wal-Mart Pond."

"At least for now we're not going to put giant plastic Coke bottles on top of the Statehouse," said Jim Gomes, Massachusetts Environmental League president.

Proceeds from the now defunct Massachusetts plan would have paid for environmental projects.