Earlier this week I was disappointed to hear that HB199, “Advertisements on School Buses”, had died in the Utah House. HB199 would have allowed cash-strapped school districts to sell advertising space on the sides of Utah’s ubiquitous yellow school buses. Opponents to the bill cited concerns about safety and the possibility of inappropriate ads — despite the fact that bill allows districts to adopt guidelines for advertising and specifically outlines that advertisements shall be age appropriate; not contain a promotion of any substance that is illegal for minors (such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs or gambling); not promote any political party, candidate, or issue; and not promote sexual material. The bill failed by a vote of 44 to 27.
Despite the fact that education receives 100% of Utah state income taxes and a major chunk of all property taxes, our schools are hungry for revenue. Allowing schools to sell advertising on buses would have given schools access to new funding without raising taxes, which is precisely the type of innovative budgeting ideas for which Utahns are clamoring. According to the Daily Herald, putting ads on buses would have allowed schools to raise an estimated $3.3 million.
For years I have said that schools should follow the lead of the lucrative sports industry and take advantage of private-sector advertising dollars. If college football (Go Cougars!) can have, for example, the ‘Zion’s Bank Play of the Day’ or the ‘Verizon Wireless Dynamite Defender’, why shouldn’t public schools make money by christening a ‘Macey’s Library’ or a ‘Jamba Juice Media Center’? UTA currently reaps the benefits of selling advertising on public transportation buses, and no one is calling for its removal because it poses a danger to motorists or because it corrupts our children.
With our good conservative lawmakers taking a tough line on taxes, searching for innovative ways to bring in revenue and keeping a watchful eye over Utah’s students, I would have expected this bill to drive straight through the House and Senate and park safely on the Governor’s desk for a signature. I think the legislature missed the boat (or the bus) on this one.