- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho’s state parks may soon pursue corporate sponsorships under legislation recently approved by state lawmakers.

The Idaho House voted 52-17 Wednesday to allow businesses’ names on state park signs, picnic shelters and brochures.

The measure is being pushed after the state’s parks department faced years of declining budgets. With no indication lawmakers will replace the millions of dollars slashed during the economic downturn, officials now want to reach out to private companies for sponsorships.

New Hampshire, California and Georgia are just some of the states that have implemented some kind of sponsorships with businesses to support their state parks.

Many of the details will need to be worked out in next year’s legislative session, when park staffers have a chance to draft rules on how to enforce the law if Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signs the bill.

Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, who backed the legislation, said state parks will not be named after any businesses.

Yet despite assurance from supporters that the sponsorship was a smart way to prevent growing government, opponents argued Wednesday that the parks department should not have to grovel for corporate money.

“Who needs Niagra Falls when Idaho has ‘Viagra Falls?’” asked Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, causing many lawmakers to laugh. “I don’t know that we want to go there. But I think we should be looking at the core problem. We should be funding this government function.”

The parks department is getting $3.5 million in state funds this year. In fiscal year 2008 - before the economic downturn - the agency received nearly $18 million in state general funds.

“I think it’s a shame we have to hobble the parks department to fund their operation,” said Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise. “I think if we want to attract people to this state, then we need to invest in our parks.”

The bill was tweaked before the House approved the legislation, meaning it needs to pass the Senate one more time before heading to the governor’s desk.

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