I admire the First Lady, and I am excited to see her give the keynote address for the first graduating seniors at the University of California at Merced on May 16. (I live 90 minutes north of Merced and was able to score a spot after doing some marketing writing for the school when it first opened four years ago).
But wow, she's an expensive lady to host. The Merced Sun-Star reports the school's commencement budget has ballooned from $100,000 to $700,000 to accommodate Obama on campus. It's not because Michelle has requested five-star digs for her Secret Service agents. Rather it's because UC Merced officials want to make a big splash.
According to spokesperson Tonya Luiz, "We have her first public address. It's our obligation to make Merced look good." The top cost is an estimated $300,000 for an audio/visual firm to broadcast the event on-site and provide a live feed for media outlets. It's doubtful they would be shelling out that kind of dough if the unpopular Governator was giving the address.
Campus planners were hitting up major companies to be sponsors, but the recession and fiscal year-end means lots of empty pockets. The Sun-Star says university officials may approach the UC Office of the President to see if it's willing to help foot the bill, although since the school system is proposing yet another hike in student fees, that may not be such a good idea.
The city of Merced, meanwhile, is prepared to tap the Downtown Improvement District, a fund of special taxes downtown shops pay on their business license, if the event goes over budget, but no general fund money will go toward the post-graduation "Cap & Town" festival in downtown streets.
That's good, because Merced is now infamous for being Ground Zero of the housing boom and bust and its unemployment rate is one of the highest in California.
Is now a good time to increase your budget by 700% to party for a day? While I'm glad Michelle picked Merced for a commencement speech, I wonder how much attention the town will get after she leaves -- and how it will help the local economy.
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