When Government Makes a Profit

September 18, 1993

In New York City, officials tired of replacing street signs from such famous thoroughfares as Broadway and Wall Street decided to manufacture replicas to sell as souvenirs. What began as an effort to counteract petty vandals has earned the city's Department of Transportation $60,000 over the past two years.

Rather than paying to have several tons of animal waste carted away each day, the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle simply composts the stuff and markets it to gardeners as "ZooDoo," earning $20,000 a year for the city's general fund. Meanwhile, in downtown Seattle, private companies have donated four espresso coffee carts for government buildings. The companies get to advertise on the carts, the carts are staffed by inner-city youth, and the proceeds help fund recreation centers.

All around the country, cities are discovering entrepreneurship. But in Maryland, state government has moved beyond souvenirs and espresso to prove that innovative programs can themselves produce marketable products.

One example comes from the state Department of Education, which has signed a deal with McGraw-Hill to market the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, an effort to make schools accountable by setting standards for mathematics, reading, science and social studies. That marketing arrangement could generate as much as $50,000 a year for the next several years.

An even better example comes from the Campaign for Our Children, an innovative effort by the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy to encourage 9- to 14-year-olds to delay sexual activity for at least one year. Slogans such as "Virgin: Teach your kid it's not a dirty word" or "A baby cost $464 a month. How much do you have in your pocket?" are designed not just to delay sexual activity, but also to spur thought and discussion about sexuality and personal responsibility.

The campaign has helped produce lower pregnancy rates and attracted the attention of other states. Federal officials are so taken with it that matching funds are now available for state and local governments that want to purchase the materials and launch their own campaigns. Meanwhile, the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy has established a not-for-profit corporation to funnel the revenues -- about $250,000 so far -- back into Maryland's campaign.

Many states and cities are showing that government can earn a buck. Marylanders can take pride that their state government is demonstrating that innovation and thoughtful reforms can attract as much interest -- and a lot more dollars -- as street signs and "ZooDoo."

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