MILLER: Naming state office buildings? Really?

By Dick Miller

WE.CONNECT.DOTS:   — In a state where the most often used adjective to describe its government is “corrupt,” politicians selling naming rights promises good stories going forward.

Two Republican state senators introduced legislation that would make the fund-raising process legal, claiming name sales like what towns and universities do with sports complexes might fulfill a public purpose.

Whereas Western Pennsylvania people know about Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh, soon they might refer to the “Tampon State Office Building” in the downtown area.

Attaching commercial monikers to state office buildings (“SOBs”) is a new business and political boom, likely leading to new types of scandals going forward.

For the Republican controlled legislature in Harrisburg, the proposal represents a change of direction.  Most of their efforts are designed to cease some government function, or at least, make it smaller and/or less effective.

Typically, we associate GOP efforts with destroying public education, denying healthcare to poor people or insuring their contributors will pay less taxes.

Naming rights for SOBs does fit their party’s philosophy to some degree.   Even though this new revenue stream will hardly produce a bubble in a state budget of over $30 billion, it is one more stab at preventing a raise of personal income or sales taxes.

Reporter Jason Gottesman broke the story of this legislative effort last month.  PLS Reporter, the publisher, is a non-partisan, online news site covering Pennsylvania government.

For some reason, main street media has ignored the proposal.

Republican senators introducing the measure are Dave Argall (Schuykill County) and Randy Vulakovich (Allegheny).  They are circulating a memo requesting additional sponsors.

The proposal comes out of recommendations from a report issued by Joint State Government Commission at the end of 2016, according to Gottesman.

Proponents are trying to deal with empty state-owned office buildings.  Due to shortage of funds, property managers tend to pick private developers for new or relocated office facilities.

Private developers can spread the cost of alterations over several years.  When the changes are made to SOBs, funds are expended as they are needed.

The senators propose to put monies raised from sale of naming rights in a special fund.  Withdrawals could only be used for maintenance and upkeep of SOBs.

Dedicated funding is like the 18-cent gasoline tax levied several years ago.  Then they promised to only use the money to improve roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

Whoops!

We learned recently that governors and the legislature have been spending over a half billion dollars a year from that fund to pay more to state police who are patrolling municipalities that refuse the cost of their own police departments.

Good for Republican townships.  Not so good for citizens not living there.  Their taxes at the pump pay twice — for their own local police and for the cost of patrolling all others.

Harrisburg Republicans believe those that fork over the monies will be less resistant if pledges are made to spend it in a specific manner. They contend other government functions should remain fixed in funding year after year, although they offer few specifics on how that works.

This is great politics!  The Democratic governor, who cannot get a decent budget passed, gets the blame for what he cannot afford to do.

Failure to maintain SOBs is a symptom of a larger problem.  State government loses asset value every year when improvements are not made that equal the depreciation on the properties.

Bottom Line: Selling naming rights to SOBs?  What a boon created for the regulars at the trough known as Harrisburg state government.

Lobbyists offer a new category of influence peddling.  Tampon, Inc. must hire them to insure they will get the huge recognition that goes with naming rights.

Interested parties will have more reasons to write campaign checks.  This program will even draw new donors.

Prosecutors will have new crimes to investigate.

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Updated: June 5, 2017 — 5:30 pm
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