After more than 90 minutes of often heated floor debate, senators on Thursday choose the tougher of two bills dealing with limiting taxpayer spending on Olympic facilities.
SB84, sponsored by Sen. Robert Montgomery, R-North Ogden, would cap spending by the Utah Sports Authority at $59 million even though as much as $70 million may be collected in the state's Olympic fund.Money for the fund comes from a 10-year diversion of sales taxes from state and local governments that's set to expire in Dec. 1999. The fund has paid for the construction of Olympic facilities along the Wasatch Front.
The Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee has a contract with the state to buy the facilities in 1999 for $59 million. The privately funded committee is also supposed to established a $40 million endowment to operate the facilities.
Because the fund is collecting more money than expected at the time the contract with Olympic organizers was signed, concern was raised about whether additional expenditures by the Sports Authority would be repaid.
Both Montgomery's bill and SB54, sponsored by Sen. Alarik Myrin, R-Altamont, would permit additional money from the fund to be spent, as long as the Sports Authority contracts with Olympic organizers for repayment.
The difference in the two bills is that Montgomery's also requires the Sports Authority to get legislative approval, an approach the Senate preferred to Myrin's. Montgomery's bill passed 16-11, while Myrin's failed, 12-15.
The Sports Authority opposed Montgomery's bill, calling a spending cap unnecessary because the board has already pledged not to spend beyond $59 million.
Sports Authority Chairman Randy Dryer told senators the requirement "will unnecessarily politicize the decisonmaking process" by micro-managing the "prominent business men and women" appointed to the board.
Sen. Dave Buhler, R-Salt Lake, said he found Dryer's comments "offensive, to say we're politicized because we're accountable to the people and the taxpayers."
Also Thursday the Senate approved a bill creating an "Olympic Czar" to monitor the finances of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee. SB121, sponsored by Myrin, would have the governor appoint a State Olympic Coordinator.