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Lawmakers consider selling naming rights for roads, cafeterias, bike trails

TALLAHASSEE — Coming soon to a bike trail, public school cafeteria or Turnpike exit ramp near you: Corporate naming rights?

That may soon be the case, if lawmakers pass a number of proposed bills making their way through the Capitol.

Behind the idea is Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who says the state needs to find creative ways to bring in money without raising taxes.

"I'm an entrepreneur," said Slosberg, who was in the handbag business before running for elected office. "I know how to generate revenue."

One of Slosberg's bills would allow naming rights to be sold on any state-owned transportation facility, including rest areas, highway lanes, toll facilities — even Florida's Turnpike.

The bulk of the revenue raised would go to the Department of Transportation.

Slosberg is pushing a similar proposal to allow naming rights for greenways and bicycle trails.

Two other Slosberg bills apply to public schools.

One would let schools sell the naming rights to their cafeterias. The other would allow school districts to sell advertising space on the side of yellow school buses.

In both cases, the money would support education.

The school-related proposals have generated the most controversy.

"There is a danger of over-commercialization," said Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, who voted against the school bus advertising bill in the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee last week. "School should be a sanctuary, a safe haven for children."

But Slosberg said kids are savvy consumers of advertisements.

Plus, he said, local school boards would have control over the content of the school bus ads, and could pick and choose which companies purchase cafeteria naming rights.

"It wouldn't be the 'Cap'n Crunch' Cafeteria," Slosberg said.

Despite the criticism, the bills — and their Senate companions — are moving swiftly through the legislative process.

On Thursday, the school bus advertising bill got a nod from the Senate Transportation Committee.

That same day, the proposal to put the naming rights for public bicycle trails and greenways up for sale breezed through the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism.

If the bill were to pass, 15 percent of the revenue raised would support bicycle safety initiatives.

The remaining 85 percent would be used to help maintain the trails.

Sen. Stephen Wise, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, noted that many of the large stadiums in the country have corporate sponsorships.

"There's no reason we could haven't the right kind of sponsorship that generates the revenue needed to keep up these trails," the Jacksonville Republican said.

While presenting the bill, Wise held up a modest tri-fold presentation board to show his colleagues how large the sponsorship signs would be.

"It's not going to be a neon sign out there with flashing lights and sirens," Wise said. "It's just amazing that people think we are going to try to destroy the ambiance of these trails."

Initially, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, expressed some hesitation.

"Ordinarily, I would not be supportive of putting signs on what tend to be environmental paths where people are trying to get out and enjoy nature," she said.

But Dockery noted that the budget for greenways and trails has been slashed over the past several years — and said the revenue raised from naming rights "could be extremely helpful in keeping the trails open and free of debris."

She ultimately joined the unanimous vote in support of the bill.

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@miamiherald.com

Lawmakers consider selling naming rights for roads, cafeterias, bike trails 01/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 10:53pm]
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