Yesterday’s inauguration of Joe Biden as president wasn’t the only thing about the Donald Trump era that was wiped from the books. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has also announced a settlement of a longstanding dispute over a 2019 Trump campaign rally whereby Target Center operators ASM Global (part of AEG, with the A in both cases standing for Anschutz, as in Los Angeles Kings and Galaxy owner Phil Anschutz) will pay part of the city’s security costs of staging the event:
According to a release from the City, $100,000 is half of the $200,000 worth of municipal costs the City believes are eligible for reimbursement. The costs cover traffic control, installation of temporary barriers, public works construction, and other service outside the Target Center.
A hundred thousand dollars isn’t all that much — Frey had previously estimated total costs to the city at more than $500,000, but only sought reimbursement for security costs inside the arena — but it’s still more than cities usually get repaid for ancillary expenses of hosting big events. Judith Grant Long, in her book outlining the full cost of sports stadiums including hidden expenses like tax breaks and operating costs, estimated an annual municipal price tag for services like added police and fire protection of $2 million per year for each stadium and arena. Miami spent about $4 million just on public services for last year’s Super Bowl, which is even more of a pain to have in your town than a Trump rally.
Public services like police and fire protection, of course, are public services, so talking about who should pay for them starts getting into questions of exactly which public costs should be counted as public subsidies. Everyone in a municipality is entitled to have firefighters on duty to keep their buildings from burning down — at least unless they live in a place where fire protection is a subscription service — so it’s not exactly a special dispensation. On the other hand, having tons of police turn out and set up barricades and do crowd control is a service that is disproportionately used by large event operators, so one could make an argument that they should shoulder a share of the costs.
It doesn’t sound like the Trump rally settlement is going to be much of a precedent: Even Frey said he hopes in the future the federal government will reimburse cities for political rally costs via the Secret Service, which sounds like a worrisome slippery slope. (Does that include costs for political rallies for local office? If not, what if there’s a joint rally for federal and local candidates?) While I wouldn’t want to see a world where political candidates can’t get police protection unless they pay a subscription fee — with maybe a couple of exceptions, for schadenfreude purposes — and even less so a world where political protestors are asked to pay the cost of their own policing, it’s also undeniably true that sports and other big events are able to reduce their costs by leaning heavily on public services, from crowd control to traffic control. It’s a discussion worth having, anyway, even once it’s mostly things like the Super Bowl racking up the bills, which are less controversial even if maybe they shouldn’t be.