Picking up a $1.4 million tab has got to be difficult, especially for a funeral.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is doing the right thing in trying to end the debate over who should pick up the bill for police, traffic control and other city services used at Michael Jackson's memorial service. He's proclaiming that the city will pay the bill and shutting down a city Web site set up to request donations to help pay the costs.

Villaraigosa said he won't ask the Jackson family or AEG Live, the owner of the Staples Center where the event was held, to help the city recoup its expenses, according to an Associated Press story.

"This is a world-class city, and we provide fire and police protection, period," the mayor told AP. "The idea that we would charge the family for a funeral is nonsensical."

I agree. While the Jackson family, or MJ's estate, may have the money for the extra police, a city the size of Los Angeles should have money in its budget for such events.

While a pop king's funeral isn't an annual occurrence and is more like a 100-year flood, as soon as memorial services were announced I wondered if Los Angeles had at least $1 million set aside in its budget for stars' funerals. After all, more stars must live in L.A. than in any other city, and crowd control would be needed at many big events. The L.A. Lakers recently won a few basketball games that required extra police, right?

I've heard of cities billing residents for ambulance services they've used, but shouldn't a public memorial be part of a large city's responsibility? Extra police were needed to protect the public, with $1.1 million for police equipment and overtime costs, according to the Los Angeles Times. If a city can't pay to protect its residents, then it isn't doing its job.

Villaraigosa, who was out of town vacationing during the memorial, called the city's donation Web site "ridiculous," even though it raised $35,000. It's unclear if the money will be returned to donors.

Los Angeles is facing a $530 million budget shortfall and layoffs, so paying $1.4 million for its costs at a memorial service is bound to bring up some screaming at council meetings.

Let them scream. Jackson's family shouldn't have to pay for police services for their beloved son, brother and father.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net


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