Lawmakers fear names like Chuck E. Cheese Bridge

Staff writerJanuary 24, 2013 

An idea to sell the naming rights for public facilities to help pay for their operation has some lawmakers concerned that Washington state could end up with a “CenturyLink Capitol Building” or a “Chuck E. Cheese Bridge.”

State Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, has introduced legislation that would let state and local agencies accept payment in exchange for the right to rename public buildings and infrastructure. She said got the idea while brainstorming how to curb tolls on the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

“I’m trying to find a way of providing additional revenue that doesn’t come out of the taxpayer’s wallet,” Angel said Tuesday during House Bill 1051’s hearing before the House Transportation Committee.

“During these challenging economic times, it is imperative that we as legislators endeavor to think out of the box,” Angel said.

House Bill 1051 would allow the state transportation commission to sell naming rights to transportation facilities. Another Angel proposal — House Bill 1050 — would allow state and local agencies to sell naming rights for other kinds of projects, such as bus terminals or parks.

Both proposals would require that revenue from selling a facility’s naming rights go toward paying for its maintenance, debt, operation or improvement.

Rep. Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat who chairs the Government Operations & Elections Committee, worried about how the renaming idea could be applied to buildings on the Capitol Campus.

“I think of perhaps the CenturyLink Capitol Building or something like that,” Hunt said. “How far does this go?”

Other skeptics at one of the bill hearings said Angel’s idea was innovative but risked sacrificing community identity for the sake of a few bucks.

“Would you contemplate that the part that says Tacoma Narrows bridge or Deception Pass Bridge would be gone, and it might be the ‘Chuck E. Cheese Bridge?’” asked Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma. “Are you concerned about the loss of that history?”

Fey also doubted that the proposal would provide much financial gain. A financial analysis of House Bill 1051, completed by the state Office of Financial Management, couldn’t determine how much money it would raise.

“I think that it’s hard for me to imagine a lot of revenue with (selling) the name,” Fey said.

Angel said that she thinks it is important to keep the traditional names of major landmarks, but thinks that something like the “ABC Company Tacoma Narrows Bridge” would be an option.

Representatives from the Washington State Transportation Commission testified in support of the proposed legislation, as did a lobbyist from the Washington State Association of Counties.

Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said he thought Angel’s proposal was “creative,” but raised issues about fairness.

“The public spends hundreds of millions of dollars to construct the infrastructure that’s around us … and someone gets to come in at the last minute and spend a million bucks and buy the naming rights to it,” Liias said. “Is that really fair to the taxpayer?”

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