State for sale

A modest proposal for Rhode Island prosperity (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)
By IAN DONNIS  |  January 9, 2008

News item: The ProJo’s Katherine Gregg reported on January 5 that Wall Street bankers have come to Rhode Island in recent months, bearing a variety of proposals to buck up the cash-strapped state. The concepts include leasing the state Lottery, and leasing or selling “the Pell Bridge for $280 million, and then, perhaps, the Rhode Island Convention Center, T.F. Green Airport, the state prison and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.”

Jeff Neal, spokesman for Governor Donald L. Carcieri, poured cold water on these notions, telling Gregg, “Selling our future rights to lottery proceeds so we can avoid making tough budget decisions today would be a huge disservice to future generations of Rhode Islanders. That’s exactly what the General Assembly has done several times in recent years with tobacco money, and it has only made Rhode Island’s budget problems worse, not better.”

Yet now is hardly the time for half-measures or conventional and narrow-minded thinking. Rhode Island, with its picaresque political culture, has cultivated a strongly developed national brand — and it’s high time that we exploit it.

A potential windfall waits in the wings with the sale of corporate naming rights along these lines:

THE CIA BIG BLUE BUG. Nothing helps to overcome the adverse publicity of losing torture videotapes like linking oneself with Rhode Island's favorite oversized insect. Projected value: $150 million.

THE HALLIBURTON PROVIDENCE DPW. Trying to move past the stain of corporate boondoggles in Iraq? Doing a better job with the Capital City's next piddling three-inch snow storm offers the chance for redemption and accolades from a grateful public. Projected value: $225 million.

THE WAL-MART QUAHOG. Although environmentalists have questioned the legality of selling the naming rights for a creature not created by man, the Arkansas-based retail giant couldn’t resist linking itself with some local aquatic life. No word yet on deep discounts on stuffies. Projected value: $275 million.

THE ROGAINE SQUIRREL. The current whereabouts of Buddy Cianci's collection of no-longer-in-use hairpieces is a well-kept secret. Yet considering the regenerative qualities of Rhode Island's rascal king, his hair helper has prodigious marketing value in making pitches to the follicly challenged. Projected value: $175 million.

THE GOOGLE SCARBOROUGH STATE BEACH. When Google Earth was followed by Google Street View, it was only a matter of time until the crew from Mountain View was offering close-ups of beach beauties and overfed middle-aged men. Projected value: $205 million.

These concepts are just a start. When it comes to the smallest state, despite the best efforts of our public officials, it's clear that we have been selling ourselves short.

Parts of this story first appeared January 5

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