The RNC in Tampa: They Didn’t Build That

The RNC in Tampa: They Didn’t Build That

The RNC in Tampa: They Didn’t Build That

The convention would not have been possible without a massive infusion of public dollars. 


The unmistakable theme of Tuesday’s Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida, was “We Built It”—a riposte to President Obama’s supposed claim to small business owners that “you didn’t build that.”

Speaker after speaker hammered the president and extolled the self-reliant businessman who created a successful venture. “We need a president who will say to a small businesswoman: congratulations, we applaud your success, you did make that happen, you did build that!” said Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell during his address. “Jack Gilchrist is the face of small business in America,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte of a small-business owner in her home state of New Hampshire. “And yes he did build it!”

John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, even suggested Obama might get beat up for so grievously insulting small-business owners. “Now if a guy walked into our bar, heard all that, and said, ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.’ You know what we’d do? Throw him out.”

Of course, as countless fact-checkers have pointed out, all President Obama was saying was that private business and the government need each other to create a vibrant economy—and specifically that businesses counted on public investments in infrastructure to succeed. This seems an obvious point, and should have been all the more obvious to convention attendees: this week’s festivities simply would not have been possible without massive infusions of public dollars and government-funded projects.

Here is a quick look at all the ways government money has made the RNC in Tampa Bay possible:

• The convention site, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, is a publicly financed and publicly owned venue. It was built in 1996 by the Tampa Bay Sports Authority, a public agency created to develop major sports attractions in the city. The project was majority financed using $80 million in city and county bonds, backed in part by taxes. To this day, the Forum is actually owned by Hillsborough County, and leased back to the Authority.

• Both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are directly financed, in part, by taxpayer money. The Presidential Election Campaign Fund gave public grants of $18,248,300 to each convention, according to the Federal Election Commission.

• The city of Tampa Bay undertook a wide variety of public projects—financed by federal and local dollars—to prepare the area for convention-goers. The city paid for $2.7 million in beautification projects and infrastructure upgrades to get ready for the RNC, which improved highways, planted trees and redesigned signage. The city has also received $11 million from the federal government to complete The Riverwalk, a two-mile greenspace near the Forum and utilized by many RNC attendees.

• The federal government also doled out a $50 million grant to provide security for the RNC, which is being used to pay police overtime and enhance equipment.

Over at Next New Deal, Jordan Fraade, Sarah Pfeifer and Jeff Madrick have a nifty back-of-the-envelope calculation estimating that for the public infrastructure costs alone—which total about $100 million for the arena costs and area improvement projects—each delegate would have to kick in $43,745 in order to accurately say “We Built It.” Checks can be made payable to the City of Tampa Bay and the US Treasury.

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