Michael Jackson's funeral: The bill comes due and LA is begging

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In the aftermath of the Michael Jackson funeral, Los Angeles has learned a painful truth: burying a legend isn't cheap. Already caught in a $320 million budget gap, the city is now scrambling to make up the estimated $1.4 million that it spent on police, traffic control, cleanup, and other costs.

In an interesting attempt to put a happy spin on the matter, the mayor's office adopted what might be called the Hank Paulson fundraising strategy, stating that the massive public expenditures for the funeral were "far less" than the $4 million originally anticipated.

Meanwhile, Wendy Greuel, President Pro Tempore of the LA City Council, followed an equally familiar form of accounting rage. In a letter to the city's emergency management department, she asked why the agency spent $48,826 to truck in lunch from a restaurant 80 miles outside of the city, when Subway sandwiches could have catered the occasion for a mere $17,491.25.

Last month, the city was stuck with a $2 million tab for a Lakers' victory parade. At that time, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa stumbled upon a useful strategy for such situations: begging. Having convinced several private donors to help cover the costs of the parade, he's hoping to accomplish the same miracle this time. However, instead of limiting his appeal to Los Angeles' usual gang of high-level philanthropists, he's widened his message to reach a broad spectrum of Jackson's fan base. The city has set up a website through which fans can make tax-deductible contributions to the Michael Jackson funeral fund; in spite of server crashes that have undermined collection efforts, the site has brought in $17,000.

It's a truism that death comes at inconvenient times and -- as Los Angeles knows all too well -- the death of a legend requires a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. However, as LAPD Chief Earl Paysinger pointed out, the city deployed more policemen for Jackson's funeral than for the 1984 Olympics, and the tab for MJ's final farewell will either come from the pockets of fans or from the budget of a painfully strapped city. Based on previous experience, it seems likely that, in the end, this will translate into cuts in teaching jobs and family services.

Given the advertising payday that the Jackson estate and the funeral's various sponsors have reaped, it seems like a good place to start would be with Staples, Nokia, and Range Rover. Beyond that, it might be nice for Jackson's family to step in, either with direct support or through some sort of donation-matching program. Given his lifelong record of public support for children's causes, it seems likely that that is what Jackson would have wanted.

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