Michigan Republicans — February 22, 2013 at 9:02 am

Michigan Republican Colbeck wants to sell off public spaces for billboards to save corporate tax cuts


Won’t somebody please think of the corporations???

In one of my favorite books of all time, Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace, in an effort to raise money, the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.) has sold the naming rights to each year to corporations. It’s called “Subsidized Time” and, over the time frame of the book, these are the years:


  1. Year of the Whopper
  2. Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
  3. Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
  4. Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
  5. Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
  6. Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile (sic)
  7. Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland
  8. Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
  9. Year of Glad

It’s an hilarious bit extrapolation of today’s trend of corporate naming of stadiums and sports venues. However, one Michigan Republican seems hellbent on taking us down that slippery slope far faster than you might imagine. In a recent op-ed for the Trenton- Grosse Ile Patch, Senator Patrick Colbeck from Canton suggested it’s time to sell off our visual landscape and public spaces to the highest corporate advertising bidder:

We have 10,711 bridges, 131 secretary of state offices, 81 rest areas, 97 state parks, 829 boat access sites, 16 harbors and over 15,000 properties in the state “land bank”. The National Counsel for State Legislators (NCSL) has identified advertising, concessions, naming rights and shared resources as incremental revenue opportunities for states.

What if we were to lease billboard space on our bridges? Billboard leases range from $250 to $1800 per month depending on location. We could raise an additional $460 million per year in advertising revenue by simply adding another placard to our overpasses next to our current route signs. With a little creativity and ingenuity we could integrate these signs onto our highway overpasses without much disruption to the aesthetics of our roadways. One idea would be to sponsor a graphic design contest to make these signs a “feature of,” not a “detraction from,” our Pure Michigan campaign.

As for our other assets, we could lease advertising space at our secretary of state offices. Our rest areas feature over 50 million visitors per year. Our state parks feature 24 million visitors. If we were to privatize the management of these assets, we could free up over $20 million in general fund dollars and generate additional concessions revenue. All told, there is the potential for over $1.6 billion in new funding for roads, all without raising taxes.

Imagine it:

Think about your visual environment for just a minute. As you go through your day, how much of that time is spent without having to look at a corporate advertising? Pumping gasoline into your car you are assaulted by posters and lighted signs and, now, even television advertisements in some stations. Driving down the road, you are a captive audience to the visual pollution of billboards and advertisements. Everywhere you turn, unless you venture into nature, you are surrounded by corporate advertising designed to make you a good American consumer.

Now Senator Patrick Colbeck wants to take that to the next level and sell off even more of our visual landscape. He wants to exploit even more spaces, public spaces that we are either forced to use or that were once the place we could go to escape from this visual pollution.

The question is WHY?

The answer is this: To make sure that our corporations don’t have to pay a single penny in increased taxes to fund the construction and maintenance of our roads and bridges, roads and bridges that they themselves are dependent upon for the success of their business. The expense will be entirely borne by us, the human citizens of this state.

Michel Serres wrote this about mental and visual pollution and what he calls “mental environmentalism”:

The captain who unloads waste in the high seas has never seen, or rather has never let, the countless smiles of the gods emerge; that would be too demanding, or even creative. Shitting on the world, has he ever seen its beauty before? Did he ever see his own beauty? And so, he who dirties space with billboards full of sentences and images hides the view of the surrounding landscape, kills perception, and skewers it by this theft. First the landscape then the world.

Colbeck suggests that his proposal is “innovation”. We should call it what it is: theft. Theft of our visual landscape. Theft of our mental environment. Theft of that which belongs to us collectively to benefit the corporate few so that their bottom lines are enhanced at our expense.

The very idea is, at least by my definition, a sin.

[Image by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]