Florida Mulls Taxes on Mar-a-Lago to Cover Trump’s Pricey Visits

TOPSHOT – US President Donald Trump (L) pumps his fist as he and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) walk together at the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 7, 2017. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

By Meg Wagner

$250,000 to host China’s president

Florida lawmakers have proposed imposing special taxes on President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to help cover the costs of security for his frequent visits — an already-expensive task that becomes even pricier when he’s entertaining other world leaders.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimated that Trump’s visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday and Friday cost a whopping $250,000, including at least $120,000 per day in overtime pay for law enforcement officers. Extra police security costs $60,000 a day when Trump travels without another dignitary by his side.

Lawmakers anxious about the rising costs have proposed rezoning the oceanfront club into a special tax district with rules requiring it to pay for the president’s visits. Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner suggested the idea to the county’s attorney office, which is now investigating its feasibility.

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“We’re very honored to have the president here, but at the same time, his travel here is such high frequency he’s not visiting Palm Beach County — he’s governing from it,” Kerner told Money magazine. He did not mention how much the new tax might bring into the county or specify exactly where the new zone’s boundaries would sit.

While Palm Beach County currently foots the bill for the added security, the federal government has promised to pay back the costs later. But commissioners said they’re not sure when they’ll see those reimbursement checks. During a recent phone call with local lawmakers, federal officials provided no details on when or how the county would get its money back.

“They were polite, but that’s where they stopped,” county commissioner Mary Lou Berger told the Palm Beach Post. “I did not get a lot of encouragement.”

Massive security in two states

Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago — formerly the private residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress to the Post Cereal fortune — in 1985 for $10 million. He developed it into a private club, which pays a lower property tax rate than hotels; his family maintains a private wing in the mansion, while the resort has rooms and bungalows available to members and their guests. Each of Mar-a-Lago’s 500 members pay $14,000 in dues each year, and new members must fork over a $200,000 initiation fee. The club is worth an estimated $150 million.

Trump has already made six visits to Mar-a-Lago, which he has dubbed his “Winter White House,” since he took office in January. Palm Beach County estimated that it has shelled out almost $2 million in overtime police work alone for 12 weeks’ worth of visits. That doesn’t include other security measures — including barriers and other security supplies — which has totaled more than $570,000 so far. If Trump’s travel to and from Florida (which is covered by federal funds, and not from Palm Beach County specifically) is included in the tally, the price of a single visit to Mar-a-Lago balloons to $3 million, meaning the six visits have cost taxpayers a whopping $18 million.

But Mar-a-Lago isn’t the only Trump property that needs a presidential security detail — and Florida isn’t the only state paying a fortune to keep the first family secure.

First Lady Melania Trump has not moved into the White House, but remains at Trump Tower in New York City, where the couple’s 11-year-old son, Barron, is enrolled in school. Estimates on how much it costs to protect the just the two of them range between $127,000 and $149,000 per day.

That price tag balloons to $308,000 when Trump is in the city. Police spent $24 million between election day and his inauguration to protect the president-elect and his family. New York City officials said that, so far, they’ve only been reimbursed $7 million.

Who’s visiting the “Winter White House”?

But that’s not the only controversy caused by Trump’s frequent trips outside of Washington, D.C. Critics say that the taxpayer-funded visits are too secretive.

A new lawsuit filed Monday demands that the Trump administration release its visitor logs, both for the White House and for Trump’s private residences in Florida and New York City. Former President Barack Obama’s White House was the first to release that information, issuing them in one-month chunks, three months after the fact. If the Trump administration continues that tradition, the first logs would be due out at the end of the month — but the White House has not said if they will make those records public.

Democrats have taken a special interest in the Mar-a-Lago logs, since the swanky venue has long attracted wealthy business people, celebrities and even foreign leaders. Trump’s critics claim that the public has a right to know who is visiting the “Winter White House,” especially if so much taxpayer money is funding the president’s trips there.

Mar-a-Lago staffers, however, have insisted that they cannot release the visitor logs because they do not keep such records. While they keep track of visitors’ names, they do not ask for birthdays or Social Security numbers — details that are standard in the White House logs maintained by the Secret Service.

Democrats were not pleased. “If the Secret Service can’t keep track of who has access to the president outside the White House then that’s a national security concern,” Sen. Tom Udall  (D-N.M.) said in March after demanding the resort begin logging guests. It’s unclear if the Mar-a-Lago staff or the Secret Service have started a more thorough guest log.