Convention fever

Categories: Economy

So some bigwigs from the Republican National Committee are in Minnesota today, sizing up the suitability of the Twin Cities as a potential site for the 2008 Republican National Convention. In the view of local boosters (a bi-partisan bunch that includes Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Senator Norm Coleman and Governor Tim Pawlenty), hosting a presidential nominating convention is practically the greatest thing that can happen to a city or state; that's why the mayors et al are also doing their best to lure the Democrats to town in 2008.

But there are good reasons to question this head-long rush to play host and it extends beyond the inherent ickiness of the modern political convention. After calculating various costs, some economists think those eye-popping economic benefit numbers are so much hooey. More tellingly, an increasing number of cities are saying "No, thanks" to the conventions. I wrote about some of those issues here.

Now consider the case of San Diego, host of the 1996 Republican National Convention. If the experience there is any indicator, Rybak and Coleman really ought to abandon their dreams and return to the boring business of running their cities. According to this story in today's San Diego Union Tribune, many of San Diego's horrendous financial problems can be traced back to convention fever. Money quote:

The convention is now seen by some auditors and investigators as among a string of events that strained San Diego's tight city finances, leading policy-makers in 1996 to balance the books by paying less into the city pension system than was needed to meet its future obligations to thousands of retirees.
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