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Editorial: PBC right to seek tax to recoup president-hosting costs


Since being sworn in as president less than two months ago, President Donald J. Trump has spent five weekends, including this one, at his gilded estate Mar-a-Lago, which he has dubbed his “Southern White House.”

While this is certainly an honor for the area, protecting the Leader of the Free World and his considerable retinue comes with certain costs.

So far, the bill to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office alone is at least $1.4 million. That’s what Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimated in mid-February, a couple of presidential visits ago. The total, of course, has risen since then.

These are expenses that the federal government should bear – or at least share. It shouldn’t fall to the residents of this county alone. Yet so far, the outlook is discouraging.

Trump supporters ask: Why the fuss? Other presidents incurred huge taxpayer expenses when they traveled and took vacations. Look at President Barack Obama!

This is different. These visits are too frequent to be considered mere vacations. For years as a private citizen, Trump spent nearly every wintry weekend flying down here from New York City. It’s clear he means to keep that habit. As County Commissioner Dave Kerner said, “We’re getting to the point where he’s governing from here.”

That’s inarguable. The president has hosted the Japanese prime minister and his wife here. He is expecting the Chinese president next month. He and his aides monitored the surprise news of a North Korean missile test here — in full view of camera-snapping diners at the Mar-a-Lago Club.

That “Southern White House” moniker is one phrase that Trump means literally as well as seriously.

By using the Palm Beach mansion as a de facto Executive Mansion, Trump’s travel is bound to be much more expensive than that of other presidents. According to the Washington Post, Trump’s first three presidential visits to Mar-a-Lago — in just his first month in office — cost the federal treasury some $10 million. That’s one-tenth of what Obama’s extracurricular travel and safety cost over eight years. Trump’s on track, in other words, to exceed that in one year.

Meanwhile, flight restrictions imposed to ensure the president’s safety shut down the nearby Lantana airport every hour that he’s here, grounding operations for days and imperiling employment for 250 people.

The county commissioners have asked nicely for reimbursement. Commissioner Mary Lou Berger says that she, Bradshaw and a county administrator recently held a conference call with officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, Congressional Budget Office and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

So far, nothing. “They were very polite,” Berger said, “but that’s where they stopped. I did not get a lot of encouragement.”

So we applaud Kerner for trying to put some muscle into the effort. He’s come up with a novel idea: imposing a tax on any special benefit the county has provided to the president by declaring Mar-a-Lago “a municipal service benefit unit.”

Florida statutes allow for such units, which typically tax things like street lighting and road paving that incur an unusual public expense. One hitch: the statute authorizes county commissioners to create these units in unincorporated areas. That would seem to leave Mar-a-Lago, located in the Town of Palm Beach, out of reach.

Kerner, however, has asked the county attorney to scour case law. The hope is to show that the county’s home-rule authority gives it leeway to establish such a unit, despite the statutory language.

This battle is not personal or political about the president, the first-year commissioner, a Democrat, said. “It’s about protecting our local tax base.”

Local government has a finite amount of money to work with, and these presidential-security expenses are an additional factor that must be accounted for. If local government must pay millions to protect the president, that’s money unavailable for vital local needs.

Simple fairness dictates that if the president is going to use a county residence as a part-time working White House, then the costs of supporting that part-time working White House be borne by the entire nation, not just those of us who happen to pay local taxes here.



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