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Editorial: The Name Game; Poor Way for a State to Raise Money

Fitting though it would be at times to rename the New Hampshire Statehouse after a restaurant that half-bakes its meals, we hope lawmakers have the good sense to resist a proposal to raise money by selling naming rights to state assets.

A bill that would put the state on the path toward establishing that practice comes from Rep. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom, who views the sale of naming rights as a fairly painless way to raise some money for a state that desperately needs it.

“I don’t think this will amount to a giant pool of money, but it will be something,” McGuire told the Concord Monitor. “Every little bit helps.”

McGuire actually introduced a bill last January that would have allowed New Hampshire to sell naming rights to bridges, overpasses, exits and other highway structures, with proceeds earmarked for the Department of Transportation. A House committee suggested that he file a new bill in the 2013 session, and McGuire will propose the creation of a study committee to consider the merits of his proposal and work out some of the details of how it might work. He envisions a bill coming back in 2014 that authorizes the state to sell naming rights and hopes the Legislature will consider allowing sponsorship of not just highway structures, but also state buildings.

Well, perhaps a study committee is necessary to iron out some of the minor technicalities of how this might work, but why waste time on the small things when the overall concept — the notion that the state should commercialize its public spaces — is, or should be, a nonstarter? Just how much study is needed to determine that this is a bad idea?

Yes, we have all become accustomed — numbed, actually — to the ubiquitousness of commercial tagging. But even if we have resigned ourselves to stadiums named after rapacious corporations and college bowl games sponsored by greasy snack foods, that doesn’t mean we have to blight our public spaces and assets with tawdry signs that glorify whichever corporate sponsor had enough money to buy that right. And it’s not just a matter of aesthetic fastidiousness. The public realm is different from the private one, from the most unexceptional, utilitarian highway overpass to a precious, revered space like the Statehouse. They were built with the tax money of the people of New Hampshire with the notion that they serve the public good. Allowing these public assets to be hijacked, for the right price, to promote or in any way serve a private interest is contrary to the spirit in which they were created. Besides inviting all manner of unnecessary controversies — how would North Country residents feel about driving over a bridge named after the builder of the Northern Pass project, or vegetarians regard a Burger King Statehouse — a state that commercializes its public assets simply doesn’t have much respect for the important work it does. And it invites others to similarly devalue collective efforts.

Those concerned about forgoing some much-needed revenue can take some comfort in knowing that the money may be needed but it wouldn’t be very much. The much larger state of Ohio forecasts raising maybe $15 million a year when it embarks on a program next year to auction off sponsorship of roads and bridges — a piddling amount for what’s being sold.

If the state needs money to maintain or expand the roads, bridges, buildings or services that promote the general welfare, it should ask those who would benefit to pay.