In one of his first interviews after being elected, Donald Trump tried to sound like the voice of benevolence when he told Lesley Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes that he would take only $1 of the $400,000 annual U.S. presidential salary. What a bargain for America, right?
Except those savings of $399,999 are chump change compared with what U.S. taxpayers are shelling out for Trump and his family and their jet-setting ways. Estimates are at $10 million to $11.3 million for three weekend trips (so far) to Mar-a-Lago. Several hundred thousand dollars have also bene spent for Secret Service protection and lodging on business trips for sons Donald Jr. and Eric as they fly to various countries around the world to ink hotel and other business deals. Don’t forget that we’re also footing the bill for protecting first lady Melania and son Barron at Trump Tower in New York City.
Add to all of those expenses the way Trump & Co. are hurting small businesses in Florida near his “Southern White House” and New York businesses near Trump Tower. The only business that isn’t hurting is Trump Inc., which is making a profit in a variety of ways.
Membership fees at the invitation-only Mar-a-Lago have doubled to $200,000 and give members “exclusive” access while those monies go to Trump. The Defense Department and the Secret Service are considering renting space at Trump Tower, so that money also would go back to Trump. CNN quoted a leasing agent who estimated that renting a floor in Trump Tower can cost about $1.5 million a year.
In this sense, having Donald Trump as president is a drag on the economy, in terms of both public and private dollars. The only place extra dollars are going is into Trump’s pocket.
When Trump heads to Florida to
play golf conduct government “business,” financial prospects for businesses at the nearby Lantana Airport take a nosedive. When Trump is in town, there’s a 10-mile circle of restricted airspace around Trump’s Florida playground, which means that no small aircraft can be in the air (the larger and closer Palm Beach airport is still open for commercial traffic).
According to a story in the Chicago Tribune:
The Secret Service closed Lantana Airport on Friday for the third straight weekend because of the president's return to his Palm Beach resort, meaning its maintenance companies, a banner-flying business and another two dozen businesses are also shuttered, costing them thousands of dollars at the year's busiest time. The banner-flying company says it has lost more than $40,000 in contracts already. ...
The airport and its 28 businesses have an economic impact of about $27 million annually and employ about 200 people full-time, many of them making about $30,000 a year. They don't get paid when the airport is closed.
[Jonathan Miller, the contractor who operates the Palm Beach County-owned airport,] is already losing a helicopter company, which is moving rather than deal with the closures. That will cost him $440,000 in annual rent and fuel sales. ...
Marian Smith, owner of Palm Beach Flight Training, said her 19-year-old business is losing 24 flights daily when closed and three students cancelled. She lost $28,000 combined the last two weekends and will lose $18,000 on this President's Day weekend. She estimates her 19 instructors are each losing up to $750 a weekend.
"What's frustrating is that we get little notice when this is going to happen," she said.
David Johnson, owner of Palm Beach Aircraft Services, said his 27-year-old repair and maintenance business generates $2 million in sales annually, but has taken a hit over the last month and he fears it will cascade if flight schools like Smith's close.
Here’s what a New York Times story reported on how Trump’s visits were affecting the local Florida economy:
- $200,000 in lost fuel sales at a large local airport in a single four-day visit this month.
- 75 no-shows at a new restaurant in just one night.
- $60,000 a day to pay overtime to sheriff’s deputies who guard the many closed roads, a tab that is about $1.5 million overall since the election.
- 250 private flights grounded every day.
Some in South Florida think the visits are just peachy. Some, but not all. Again, from the Times story:
Although economic development officials are ecstatic over the free publicity provided by news reporters’ live waterfront shots — and the excited buzz in the area is palpable — others are exasperated over the drain on small businesses and the circuitous routes residents have to drive to avoid two miles of closed roads. ...
St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church, in West Palm Beach at the western end of the Southern Boulevard Bridge, was holding its 42nd annual Greek Festival this weekend.
“If they see the road closed, they will find something else to do,” said the Rev. Andrew Maginas, who said the festival was a critical fund-raiser. “We pray for him at every service to do right by our country, but we are sad that his visit comes during our festival.
“We are hoping he can build a helipad soon on Mar-a-Lago grounds.”
The cost estimates for Trump’s weekly Florida vacations are based on what it cost taxpayers when President Obama spent a weekend in South Florida. From a CBS News story:
Four years ago, a weekend Mr. Obama spent in South Florida cost taxpayers $3.6 million. The Pentagon spent about $2.8 million for Air Force One plus support aircraft and military personnel. The Secret Service and the Coast Guard added nearly $800,000.
During his eight years in office, Mr. Obama racked up about $97 million in travel costs. Mr. Trump is on pace to eclipse that by the end of his first year.
No one would argue that a sitting president and his family don’t deserve security, and Americans realize Secret Service protection and the associated personnel and equipment come with a price tag. No matter who the president is or where or when the president travels, it costs money and causes inconvenience to the local community. It costs $180,000 per hour to fly Air Force One, and it’s a four-hour round trip from Washington. Protecting an open beachfront resort such as Mar-a-Lago also costs extra—a lot extra.
But traveling every weekend is beyond what other presidents have done. One month of Trump travel is costing as much as the average of what President Obama spent on travel for an entire year. You might say this much travel is “unpresidented.”
And don’t forget that throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized Obama for every golf game. Trump has played golf six times since his inauguration. Trump left Washington three weekends in a row, yet during the campaign, he said:
“I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done,” Trump told a reporter in 2015. “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off… You don’t have time to take time off.”
There have been claims that the costs of protecting Melania and Barron while they stay in Trump Tower will be $300 million a year, or twice the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, which was $148 million in 2016 and which Trump is making noises about dismantling. While Politifact rates that claim “mostly false,” it also says that no one knows if or when the rest of the first family actually will move into the White House, so costs will continue, even if they can’t be estimated accurately. More recent reports put that total at $50 million a year, assuming Trump doesn’t make it to New York very much.
New York City businesses felt the pinch immediately after the election, with street closures and increased police presence. Said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: "I've met with some of these business owners, and they've told me that since their street was dead-ended, deliveries have become nearly impossible and customers have stayed away, costing them anywhere from 30% to 70% of their business." Some of that has since eased as streets have reopened, but businesses lost a lot of holiday sales.
The conservative group Judicial Watch was one of the first to blow the whistle on the high costs of Trump travel. From the CBS story:
“If he’s going down there every weekend, the costs are going to add up pretty quickly,” said Tom Fitton, president of watchdog group Judicial Watch. Fitton is pressing the administration to release Mr. Trump’s travel costs.
“He doesn’t need to go to Florida every weekend. He can work at the White House or up at Camp David,” Fitton said.
What about Camp David, the Maryland presidential retreat that was good enough for all of 45’s predecessors? According to a story in The Washington Post, this is what Trump said in a pre-inauguration interview:
“Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it,” Trump said in an interview with a European journalist just before taking office. “You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.”
The Washington Post (among other news organizations) carries a running total of Trump’s lies since he became president, and they’re adding up quickly. Maybe they can start a new feature adding up his travel expenses, too.
Back to Trump’s $1-per-year salary. Since Trump is never going to release his taxes—for past years or the current one—how will America know if he’s reneging on that promise, too? A site that lists all White House salaries, year by year, will be able to tell us, if the Trump White House ever gets around to making that information public. The official White House page that lists salaries in the Trump administration is still “being updated.”
In other words, don’t hold your breath on finding out any of that information.