Two legislators want to limit the amount of money Utah taxpayers spend building Olympic facilities to $59 million, while another thinks the total should be several million dollars less.
Now that Salt Lake City has been awarded the 2002 Winter Games, lawmakers appear ready to lift their self-imposed ban on discussing Olympic-related legislation.They kept quiet during the 1995 Legislature after Tom Welch, head of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee, warned that any debate could hurt the bid for the Winter Games.
Come January, though, there's likely to be at least four bills dealing with the state's investment in the Olympics. Taxpayers are spending $59 million to build Olympic facilities, including a bob sled and luge run near Park City.
Olympic organizers plan to pay back that investment out of the $800 million in revenues they expect to raise from the sale of broadcast rights, corporate sponsorships, tickets and other items.
In exchange, the facilities will be turned over to the organizing committee in 1999, and operated after the 2002 Winter Games by a private foundation endowed with at least $40 million from Olympic revenues.
Lawmakers agreed to set aside 1/32nd of every penny paid in sales tax for ten years to pay for Olympic facilities after voters approved a statewide referendum on bidding for the Winter Games in 1989.
At that time, the sales tax diversion was expected to raise about $54 million before it expires in 1999. Since then, the state's strong economy has boosted that amount to as much as $70 million.
Sen. Robert Montgomery, R-North Ogden, Rep. Kurt Oscarson, D-Sandy, and Rep. Ray Short, R-Salt Lake, all want to limit the amount available to the Utah Sports Authority, which oversees spending on Olympic facilities.
The Sports Authority has pledged to cap spending at $59 million, and has already committed all but about $500,000 of that amount for construction and maintenance of the facilities.
Besides the bobsled and luge run now under construction at the Utah Winter Sports Park, the state has also built ski jumps there, as well as a speed-skating oval at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center in Kearns.
State funds were also used to help build an ice sheet in Ogden, and money was just appropriated towards a similar facility in Provo. Salt Lake City is expected to seek funds for an ice sheet.
Sports Authority Chairman Randy Dryer said lawmakers don't need to set a limit. "We've done that," he said. "We've done everything we can except sign it in blood and give our firstborn children."
Dryer said during a meeting of the Sports Authority executive committee on Thursday that he is concerned raising the issue during the Legislature will lead to attempts to spend even more money.
Oscarson, who is seeking to make the $59 million cap law, said he doesn't think his proposal will generate much controversy among fellow lawmakers. "This is just to make sure," he said.
Montgomery, who, like Oscarson, is member of the Legislature's Sports Advisory Committee, is having a similar bill drafted. "This bill in my mind is not a slap at the Sports Authority at all," he said.
"I think we need to maintain our tradition, where we stick to what we tell the people," Montgomery said, describing his proposed legislation as, "more a show of good faith to the people of the state."
Short wants to look at setting the spending limit even lower, possibly to what the sales tax diversion was supposed to raise back in 1989, when voters agreed to go ahead with the Olympic bid.
"That's what the taxpayers were told," Short said.
Short also intends to seek legislation requiring Olympic organizers to pay for the land as well as the facilities at the Utah Winter Sports Park. The land was donated to the state in exchange for the construction of a $2 million road.
"They should pay the fair market value for that land," he said. "I think taxpayers should get their fair shake from it," especially now that NBC has agreed to pay a record $545 million for the television rights to the Games.