As state lawmakers continue to brainstorm ideas for generating revenue to close a budget gap as large as $27 billion, one proposal suggests putting banner advertisements on state government websites. House Bill 682 would allow state agencies, departments, boards and commissions - except higher education institutions - to lease advertising space on their websites.
A fiscal note attached to the bill says it would raise $4.3 million per year for the state. The money would be forwarded to the state's general fund, minus any administrative costs. HB 682 was authored by House Representatives Fred Brown (R-Bryan), Bill Zedler (R-Arlington), and John Garza (R-Helotes).
The federal government bans advertising on any sites registered under the .gov domain name. Because about fifty Texas agency websites are transferring from the state's domain (state.tx.us) to .gov, they would be ineligible to host banner ads.
One telecommunications policy strategist has been arguing the .gov banner ad ban should be lifted. Blair Levin was a high level FCC official who led the creation of the National Broadband Plan, and is now a fellow at Aspen Institute.
"These websites are incredibly important for interactions between citizens and the government," Levin told KUT News. "But the government doesn't treat them the right way, because they don't have the incentive to treat them the right way."
"If suddenly, the State of Texas was actually making money off of these things, they would try to make these websites more attractive. They would put information that was more valuable to people," he said.
But allowing advertising on government websites might create ethical conflicts by providing business an opportunity to spend thousands of dollars in advertising with a state agency that regulates its industry, according to Robert Wechsler is the research director at the non-profit foundation City Ethics.
"There's also the competition," Wechsler said. "It puts the state in competition with the many businesses in the state that are seeking advertising. That's always a questionable thing, whether the government should be competing for private business,"