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SOLUTIONS/GRAHAM: Who should pay for Inauguration Day festivities?
What we saw in the District the night of Nov. 4, 2008, was unprecedented. When Sen. Barack Obama was declared the next president, residents across the city poured into the streets.
Cheers could be heard blocks away from spontaneous celebrations at the Howard University campus. People danced, sang and chanted Mr. Obama’s name in the streets.
Similar or even greater revelry is expected Jan. 20. This Tuesday will be like no other in the history of the District. Unfortunately, that celebration will come with a hefty price tag. And it is the responsibility of the federal government to cover the cost of this federal event.
The District is in no position to bear the cost of this event alone. Tough economic times have battered citizens all over the country. We have seen home foreclosures, rising unemployment and budget shortfalls. The District is not immune to these issues.
Last year, the District faced a $131 million projected budget gap for fiscal year 2009. The D.C. Council spent weeks scrubbing the budget. We had to make tough decisions on funding cuts. After weeks of work, the council was able to close the gap. Still, weeks later, we learned the District is projecting another shortfall of $127 million. After making cuts to services and programs, the District cannot stand any more financial burdens.
Additionally, the District has no leeway in deciding what services it provides for the inauguration. We have a responsibility to protect all of our residents and visitors. We have a responsibility to deliver a safe and enjoyable experience to everyone.
Visitor estimates are between 1 million and 4 million. Our local resources will be strained to receive these out-of-towners for this federal event. Regardless of how large the actual turnout, the burden is on us to be prepared.
Public safety is one of the District’s most important responsibilities for the inauguration. We must put every available police officer to work. Of course, those officers must be paid for overtime resulting from extended shifts.
Also, we cannot provide complete security alone. We must hire officers from out of state to help. It seems unfair that we should have to pay out-of-town officers to protect out-of-town visitors.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier does not have the option to commit only an “affordable” number of officers for the inauguration. Her duty is to use all her resources to help federal authorities execute their security plans.
The Department of Transportation faces a similar duty. It must ensure the millions of visitors make it safely to and from their destinations. But it must be done within the guidelines set by federal authorities.
DDOT must manage street closures that are required by the Secret Service. Traffic must be routed away from the inauguration zone, which was created by the Secret Service as well. At the same time, DDOT must manage transportation issues elsewhere in the District.
It is a huge management task that will require more resources than day-to-day operations. These local resources will be used to assist visitors who do not pay taxes in the District.
Congress has given the District $15 million for the costs of events and demonstrations in the District. With inauguration costs estimated to be as much as $50 million, that amount will not be enough. I support Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s request for an additional $15 million. We have nine more federal holidays and a number of demonstrations to prepare for.
The White House also approved emergency funding for the District. This will be a much needed asset in anticipation of unforeseen costs.
Perhaps millions of visitors from across the country will visit the District for this historic occasion. All of them hope to be a part of history - whether standing shoulder to shoulder on the Mall or sitting in a local restaurant.
We are privileged to be the capital city of this country. We are honored to host the inauguration of this country’s highest leader. We invite our fellow citizens to take part in the celebration. And we will do our best to make them safe and comfortable.
However, we cannot do this without being compensated. Our hospitality to the federal government is expensive. Our police force will be charged with protecting visitors who do not pay taxes here. Visitors must travel through our streets to reach inauguration activities on federal land.
Our agencies face the challenge of managing this event on the federal government’s terms. Therefore, the federal government should pay the costs of their own plans.
• Jim Graham represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council.
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