A Modest Proposal to Balance California’s Budget

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California’s latest budget crisis is solved!

It started with a discussion with one of the co-chairs of the Resolutions Committee of the California Democratic Party regarding the wording of resolutions, and just making up a hypothetical example, he said that a resolution could not call for support of a specific piece of legislation such as the Thomas Gangale Russian River Protection Act. Now, sometimes bills are named to honor individuals, nothing strange about that, but I have a learning disability, and sometimes when I’m reading, I parse things a little differently from normal people. So, the name of this hypothetical bill took my thinking off on a tangent: Suppose that I could pay a few million dollars to the state of California to have the Russian River officially named the Thomas Gangale Russian River for a few years. That would be a nice boost to my megalomania, and at the same time put some chump change in the public coffers–a win-win.

Years ago, I hated it when Candlestick Park was renamed 3Com Park. Now it’s Monster Park. Sure, that makes more sense; you have to be some kind of a monster to survive the weather in the damned place. Anyway, city governments have been cutting such deals with corporations for years in order to ease their financial woes, so why couldn’t the state government do the same thing by leasing the naming rights to the state’s geography? If not the Thomas Gangale Russian River, then perhaps the Stolichnaya Russian River or even the Big Lebowski White Russian River. Thanks to occasional water quality issues, there are times it sort of smells like ragged vodka anyway.

However, I wouldn’t want our state to entirely prostitute its geographic identity to corporate advertising; rather, I would insist that some vestige of the original name survive from one corporate sellout to the next. If British Petroleum leased the naming rights to the Santa Barbara Channel, for instance, I wouldn’t stand for them renaming it the English Channel. Bugger that! And none of this tedious 3Com Park at Candlestick Point dodge either; you Madison Avenue guys are more clever than that, and if your client’s corporate name is tough to fit into this geographic scheme, well that’s why you get paid the big bucks.

So, what could we do here in California? Georgia Pacific could add its name to a national forest of its choice, and that might incentivize the company to conserve the forest rather that log it, although it would be kind of weird having the name Georgia on a forest in California. The Morton Salton Sea is a no-brainer. We could have Sequoia Voting Systems National Park, unless Secretary of State Debra Bowen vigorously objects. Nestle and Hershey could compete for the Chocolate Mountains contract, but being a San Franciscan of Italian descent, I’d root for Ghirardelli.

City and county governments could get in on the action as well. After all, a New Mexico town once renamed itself after a TV game show. We could have Pillsbury Crescent City, Burger King City, and Olive Garden Grove. We could have Shasta Soda County, Napa Auto Parts County, and Imperial Margarine County. The possibilities are limitless. Get out your gazetteer!

I’d even swallow my anger and consider San Fran-Cosco Bay… for a very dear price. We have to pay to clean up the oil spill somehow.

I pitched this concept to Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi a few days ago, and he was understandably cautious. “A lot of the state is federal land, so the money for renaming our geography would go to Washington.” I don’t know about that. I remember when Lyndon Johnson changed the name of Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy, with the permission of the governor of Florida. After a few years, Floridians had a change of heart and successfully lobbied for a return to the historic name. So now there’s the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Federal land, absolutely, but geography named by the state. So, it seems to me that California can sell out to corporations without cutting the feds in for a piece of the action. The US government has its own assets to which it can sell naming rights. For instance, it has the Halliburton Iraq War and the Blackwater War on Terror.

Thomas Gangale is an aerospace engineer and a former Air Force officer. He is currently the executive director at OPS-Alaska, a think tank based in Petaluma, where he manages projects in political science and international relations. He is the author of From the Primaries to the Polls: How to Repair America’s Broken Presidential Nomination Process, published by Praeger.

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