Taxpayers to pay record amount for Clinton's 'smaller' inaugural Higher costs will pump up tab to at least $12.7 million


WASHINGTON -- While organizers of President Clinton's second inaugural have touted next month's celebration as smaller and less expensive than the 1993 extravaganza, the cost borne by taxpayers will be the highest ever, according to White House records.

This taxpayer expense was not highlighted at a recent briefing by inaugural organizers, who focused instead on the strict standards imposed this time for collecting private donations for "cheaper" parties and other special events.

But according to budgets provided by the White House and Congress -- and not including the undisclosed inaugural budget of the Secret Service -- the public cost is at least $12.7 million. That is a 27 percent increase over the taxpayer tab in 1993.

"Unfortunately, these things cost money to do," said Deborah Willhitt, co-executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. "If everybody donated everything, then we would have a story about everyone donating money to put it on."

The public cost is rising because the government is buying a bigger sound system for the swearing-in ceremony, is getting better computers to coordinate the day's events and is paying some overtime because the Jan. 20 event falls on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Moreover, the security and logistical requirements for one of the nation's biggest public gatherings are akin to a military operation, and the inaugural in fact is staged in large part by the Pentagon.

When inaugural organizers and White House officials were asked about the public expense recently, they at first disputed that the taxpayer cost has grown since 1993. But after the White House officials reviewed an array of agency budgets, they acknowledged the taxpayer cost had increased.

White House spokesman Barry Toiv declined to release some of the key budget details, such as the multimillion-dollar Secret Service expense of protecting the president and using metal detectors to screen the estimated 300,000 people expected to attend the speech and parade. But based on the budgets publicly available, the 1997 costs will be $12.7 million, compared to $10 million spent by the same agencies in 1993.

Until now, the White House has highlighted downsizing -- that the cost of galas and other events supported by private donations is decreasing to about $30 million in 1997 from $33 million in 1993.

But, in fact, many of the costs are footed by taxpayers, including the $1.5 million spent by the General Services Administration to pay for offices and equipment used by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which puts on the privately financed galas.

It's hard to find an official in Washington who complains about the cost or value of showing the world how the U.S. military since 1789 has helped put on a public display of a peaceful transition of presidential power.

Some observers wonder at the size of it all. "The kind of inaugural we put on these days is one more trapping of an increasingly imperial presidency," said David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Under the Constitution, Congress is required to arrange for the swearing-in of the president. There is no requirement for a massive ceremony or parade. But, clearly, the inaugural budget is bipartisan and approved long before the election.

The increased cost literally starts at the Capitol steps. The expense associated with constructing the huge platform and grandstands at the Capitol has grown to nearly $1 million this time from $625,000 in 1993.

"Several of the costs have gone up considerably," said Eric Ruff, a spokesman for the Joint Congressional Inauguration Committee. "In terms of construction, there is a higher cost all around."

Ruff said that in addition to a 25 percent increase in lumber costs for the platform, the committee decided to "considerably beef up the sound system" because there were complaints in 1993 that some people in the crowd of 250,000 could not hear Clinton.

According to White House records, the District of Columbia government expects to be paid more than $5.7 million to provide security and other measures, up from $5.5 million in 1993. The Interior Department, which includes the U.S. Park Police, has budgeted $1 million, up from $775,000.

The biggest increase in public funding goes to the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which provides logistical support for the swearing-in and parade. It has budgeted $4.7 million, but White House officials expect the committee to spend $3.5 million. In any case, that is up from up from $1.6 million the committee spent at Clinton's first inaugural.

Pub Date: 12/27/96

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