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Kansas City officials pitch for the GOP convention — privately

02/25/2014 5:02 PM

02/25/2014 11:04 PM

Officials working to convince the Republican Party to hold its 2016 convention in Kansas City declined this week to say how much local taxpayer money may have been promised as part of the effort.

The city’s formal convention proposal is now in the hands of GOP officials. The pitch is believed to include a detailed description of what the city and host committee can offer, from available hotel rooms to the quality of arena air conditioning to bus service.

But it must also include a detailed preliminary budget, including an outline of how security, construction and other costs will be divided among local taxpayers, the federal government and private donors.

Last week, The Star filed a Sunshine Law request with the city and the Kansas City Convention Visitors Association asking for information from the proposal on the potential public cost of the convention.

Both declined, citing state law — and a concern about revealing details of the bid to competing communities.

“We will not be addressing specific questions related to the Finance section of our response,” said an email from Julie Sally, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City convention task force.

City spokesman Chris Hernandez also declined to provide the requested information, as did Mike Burke, the attorney for the KCCVA.

The group plans an informal release of some information and pictures related to the bid Wednesday

today

.

Convention boosters say the cost to Kansas City taxpayers should be minimal. Yet the GOP’s request to interested cities suggests the potential taxpayer expense could be higher than is publicly known.

The Republicans’ request for proposals makes repeated references to “the City and/or Host Committee” as the responsible parties for a long list of requirements, including site construction, arena rental, transportation and security. It asks bidding cities to provide a breakdown showing the taxpayer’s share and what the private sector will provide.

Patrick Tuohey, a spokesman for the Show-Me Institute in Missouri, said taxpayers should know their potential costs before the city commits to the Republican convention.

“Citizens absolutely have a right to know how much they’ve committed,” he said. Taxpayers “cannot assess this risk without the necessary information.”

Understanding local taxpayer exposure for security costs is especially important. A convention city must provide large numbers of police and other security officers, fencing, metal detectors, communications facilities and other security-related apparatus before and during the convention event.

In 2012, security costs alone approached $50 million in Tampa, Fla., where Republicans gathered, and $50 million in Charlotte, N.C., the Democrats’ convention site.

Federal grants covered those costs in both cities. Kansas City officials expect the same here, reducing local taxpayer exposure for security items to zero.

But the bid request document asks for a backup plan if the feds don’t come through. In that unlikely case, either local taxpayers or private donors would have to promise to cover the expense.

There are other potential costs for local taxpayers. Tampa, for example, spent more than $675,000 on nonreimbursed expenses following the GOP’s 2012 convention there.

That cost was a small portion of the overall bill, however. Combined, Tampa and its host committee spent $99 million on the 2012 convention, a post-convention study found, virtually all of it paid for by either the federal government or private donors.

The study also suggests Tampa’s out-of-pocket costs were covered by increased tax revenue generated by the convention.

Kansas City has provided general taxpayer support for large-scale events in the past. It spent almost $700,000 on expenses related to the 2012 All-Star Game, for example, including security and other costs.

Private donations are still expected to provide the bulk of the funding for the 2016 GOP convention. Local and national fundraisers are now obtaining pledges for those nonsecurity costs in Kansas City, estimated at $50 million or more.

The Republican Party requires bidding cities to establish a nonprofit committee to oversee local convention planning and execution. Kansas City’s is called KC2016 Host Committee.

The committee preparing the bid is a separate nonprofit company called the KC RNC 2016 Bid Task Force, LLC. An attorney for the visitors association says no public funds were used in the preparation of the bid.

Private contributions to both local convention companies may eventually be tax deductible.

The city plans to make its pitch to the GOP in Washington next week. That meeting is closed to the public.

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