Wall Street shares and home prices have tumbled, Americans’ pensions have shrunk and the government is spending more than $1 trillion to bail out failing banks and businesses. Not exactly an opportune time to throw a $170 million party.
But that’s what Tuesday’s inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is projected to cost when all the security, official festivities, concerts and transportation expenses are added up. Taxpayers will pick up most of the tab.
The question of whether it makes a good investment depends on one’s vantage point.
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“I’m cheap by every standard, but this is history,” said Tomia Austin, in town from Atlanta, adding that she hopes to one day tell her grandchildren about attending the inauguration.
“You can’t have such a collection of people here in the capital without paying to keep them safe,” added Suzannah Leisher, 44, who came from Millburn, N.J., to witness history.
But Randy Reehm, a retired U.S. Army colonel now living in Russellville, Ark., said he thought there were “much better things that could be done with that money … absolutely.
“I realize that many people feel this inauguration will be part of a healing process for the entire country,” he said in a telephone interview. “And let’s hope that it is. But with all the new government programs this new administration is going to bring about, I hope the inauguration is not just a demonstration of the unbridled spending that will follow.”
The final tally won’t be known for weeks. But few dispute that it is shaping up to be an expensive few days.
Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony itself has a budget of $1.24 million. The 10 official balls, the Lincoln Memorial concert and the services Tuesday on the Mall are likely to come in at $45 million. The District, Maryland and Virginia say they are footing $75 million in security and transportation costs, and the federal government’s security expenses have been estimated at $49 million.
The ceremony, orchestrated by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, is funded by taxpayers. The local jurisdiction costs are footed by local taxpayers.
The inaugural parties and Mall expenses, among other costs, are paid by the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), which raised money through private donations.
Inaugural planners said they had to balance the excitement of a historic inauguration with the nation’s worsening economy, which now has Americans tightening their belts.
“There is an importance [in allowing] people to come together in a sense of common purpose and to mark a new beginning in a positive way … in trying to make this as open and as accessible as we possibly can,” said Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for the inaugural committee.
The free Lincoln Memorial concert and the JumboTrons on the Mall haven’t been tried to the same extent in the past, he said.