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Selling park names

Among the most important parts of the legislative process is the consideration of unintended consequences. The Legislature should remember this when thinking through Senate Bill 384. The bill, which would allow local governments and school districts to sell the names of parks and buildings, was sent to the Assembly after passing the Senate 21-0.

The goal of this bill is pretty clear: more money. But it could very well cost governments plenty of money, too.

Politicians are known for playing politics with everything that comes before them. If Senate Bill 384 becomes law and local governments decide to develop procedures for selling naming rights, elected boards will become gatekeepers of commercial speech. And it won’t be long before a naming proposal offends the sensibilities or politics of some School Board or city council member.

The first time an elected body rejects a naming bid for any reason — whether someone thinks it’s in poor taste, offensive to children or upsetting to organized labor, or if that company or person simply didn’t contribute to a particular official’s re-election campaign — it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

We’re all for government making more productive use of the public’s assets. We’re all for innovative, free-market ways to increase revenues, especially if they don’t involve compulsory taxes. But we’re also wary of unintended consequences. If lawmakers and local governments aren’t prepared to embrace names that might make them uncomfortable, they’ll need to be careful with this one. It could cost them.

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