“Getting several emails asking why we are “wasting time” encouraging MJ donations when we have a budget crisis. Folks, that’s precisely why.”
— LA Mayor spokesman Matt Szabo on Twitter.
Michael Jackson may have passed into the ether of fantasy and dreams, “perched in a moon crescent” (at least according to a weeping Brooke Shields), but there is no escape for the Los Angeles City Council. Budgets have a nasty habit of remaining after the departed have been put to rest, notably those in deficit.
With California’s finances in a mess, and several cities going broke, the City of Angels can add its rather tarnished name to that list. Los Angeles faces its greatest financial crisis in 75 years, with an estimated budget deficit of $530 million. Parades are proving unaffordable, and celebrations too costly. Unless, of course, the occasion is commemorating the passing of Jackson, or a victory by the LA Lakers.
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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is happy to splash money, existing or otherwise, like a Roman emperor at the end of his tether. Such events, he claims, demand the city’s support, however empty the backing purse might be. In the case of the Lakers, all complaints were not so much parried and blissfully ignored. “People can complain about it, that’s fine, but we’re going to have a parade,” said Villaraigosa.
With such financially-savvy stewards as Villaraigosa, it is a wonder Los Angeles did not disappear into monetary oblivion sooner.
The Los Angeles Times, showing how giddy parochialness often trumps basic thrift, has also been on record to say that the city could foot the bill for such events. “For all the money the Lakers have pumped into the city coffers since they moved downtown, financially floundering Los Angeles can afford to pay for the procession from Staples Centre to the Coliseum.” The eventual cost of the parade was $2 million.
The result of this ghastly descent into financial ruin is a pauperized city, making private donors the only true source of revenue. The city is effectively craving the receipt of alms.
Jackson’s fans have become the logical target for the latest bonanza. The mayor’s pleading website seeks to pull heartstrings in order to loosen purse strings. “Help the City of Angels provide the extraordinary public safety resources required to give Michael the safe, orderly and respectful memorial he deserves.”
Vast costs have been incurred covering such matters as security. Some 3,000 police officers were used in managing the crowds who gathered outside the Staples Center, though this turned out to be something of an overkill – a mere 5,000 eager but calm fans stood gaping on the perimeter. A helicopter and a SWAT team were also readied for an emergency. Not even the Olympics of 1984 had warranted such an operation. The estimated cost for this effort came to $4 million.
An economy that privileges a world of credit and credit scores rather than saving rates and acts of thrift even after the global financial crisis will reward economic ineptitude and vast spending. Parades and festivities act like suitable distractions, decadent symptoms of a fallen culture in denial. Jobs are shed like dead skin, but authorities still have time for commemorating deceased celebrities. That such things should happen not merely among private citizens but notably public ones should be of deep concern.
Profligate councils are proving to be the rule rather than the exception, as has been proven in the city of rapidly descending angels.
Binoy Kampmark is a lecturer in history at Queensland University and was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.