City and town governments are always looking for new ways to generate revenue without having to raise taxes on homeowners or commercial businesses, especially during these tough fiscal times. Advertising on websites, as done all across the private sector, is a proven way to generate new income.
The City of Boston’s web site received an astonishing 6.8 million visits last year, while the Boston Public Schools’ web site received 4.7 million visits. With this kind of traffic, the City and the BPS could potentially raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring revenue from advertising on these websites.
Similarly, advertising on heavily used associated city websites such as the Boston Public Library, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Boston Police Department and the Boston Housing Authority could also generate new revenues to support these departments.
Advertising on public property to raise revenue for government in Massachusetts is hardly new. The Commonwealth advertises on MBTA buses, subways, and commuter rail. And, there is already precedent in the city, as Boston has collected $4.9 million dollars from advertising as part of its Street Furniture program.
While other state and local governments across the country are investigating the possibility of generating revenue from their websites, some, like the states of Washington, California, and Oregon and the city of Chicago, are already advertising on their public sites. Also, states like Texas and Connecticut are considering legislation to allow advertising on their government websites.
There is one stumbling block that needs to be removed. Currently, the federal government, which owns the .gov domain, has a policy of not allowing advertising on any of these .gov sites. It DOES, however, allow advertising on all .com or .org sites that are government affiliated. Indeed, the federal government also allows corporate sponsorship and advertising on its highways with the Adopt a Highway program.
We need to work with our elected officials in Washington to change the federal policy or our state could adopt a law that does allow for .gov advertising. In the meantime, we should begin to immediately advertise on all city .com and .org sites where it is permitted.
Of course, there would be strong guidelines as well as strong content review, as there is in other places, to prohibit inappropriate ads or conflicts of interest.
Advertising on public websites as a way to generate revenue without raising taxes is a new train that is coming down the track. We can do the right thing and get on the train now as a way to show the taxpayers that we are serious about raising new revenue without continuing to raise their taxes.