Rep: Olympics backer must pay market rates for state billboards

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Concerned that the Boston Olympics campaign could cut into public billboard and bus advertisement revenues, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers has gotten behind a proposed budget amendment requiring Olympics organizers to pay market rates for public ad space.

Except where market rates are paid, the amendment sponsored by House Transportation Chairman William Straus would ban the state from offering ad space controlled by the MBTA, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Massachusetts Port Authority and the Department of Conservation and Recreation as a condition for hosting the Olympic Games.

Public opinion has trended against the proposal driven by the non-profit Boston 2024 to bring the Summer Olympics to the Boston area in nine years. The idea has also driven lawmakers to explore safeguards to restrict the use of taxpayer money in connection with the bid.

In an email to his colleagues Thursday, Straus explained his understanding that during prior Olympics, the local organizing committee was required to obtain control of publicly owned advertising space at airports, on publicly owned billboards and on transport. Straus said the space was used during the games and in the month preceding the games.

“I am concerned that this could result in the effective diversion of millions of dollars in regular advertising receipts for the Commonwealth now realized through Massport, the MBTA and MassDOT,” the Mattapoisett Democrat wrote. “Those revenues currently support and help defray the costs of these transportation agencies.”

An aide provided an excerpt from an International Olympic Committee technical manual that said beginning with the 2004 games in Athens, local organizing committees are required to gain “control over all city advertising opportunities: airport, train, bus, and other transport advertising, as well as billboard advertising” and binding contracts must be established before the IOC considers a city as a candidate.

A bipartisan group of more than a dozen House members signed onto Straus’s bill, including Rep. Michael Moran, a member of leadership, and Financial Services Chairman Aaron Michlewitz.

Lawmakers and others seeking to help the MBTA find more revenues have pointed to advertising as a potential source, directing the authority to offer naming rights for stations and encouraging the MBTA to monetize more of the stations and vehicles as ad space.

State representatives are scrambling to meet a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to file amendments to the $38 billion state budget proposal (H 3400) unveiled midday Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee. Amendments are being posted here.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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