clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Organizers of 2002 Games need room to breathe, lawmakers told

Lawmakers should give Olympic organizers some breathing room next session instead of passing tougher oversight legislation, the co-chairman of the state's Sports Advisory Committee said.

Rep. Jordan Tanner, R-Provo, told members of the Business, Labor and Economic Development Interim Committee this week that all Utahns need to come together in support of the 2002 Winter Games.That includes the Legislature, which is already expected to consider two bills to increase government oversight of the largely privately funded Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

"We as a Legislature have a responsibility to move ahead and give them some breathing room," Tanner said. "Without doing that, we as a Legislature put the situation in jeopardy to an extent I think we don't want to."

That means waiting until the 1999 Legislature to deal with oversight issues. "We still have plenty of time," Tanner said, calling it "problematic" to discuss the issue in the next session, which begins in January.

There may not be much support next year for Tanner's position, even though he co-chairs the legislative committee that monitors preparations for the Olympics with help from local government representatives.

Legislative leaders have already made it clear to Olympic organizers that they're going to be involved in making sure the $1 billion event doesn't leave a debt behind for taxpayers.

And Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, is proposing legislation that would give the Legislature access to the organizing committee budget and increase the number of public representatives on the SLOC board of trustees.

At the interim meeting, Rep. Steve Barth, D-West Valley, questioned Tanner's suggestion. "Now is the time to ask tough questions," Barth said. "The oversight committee is set up to oversee, not to be a `trust me' committee."

But Sen. Alarik Myrin, R-Altamont, the other co-chairman of the Sports Advisory Committee, said the committee can only offer advice. "If you want an oversight committee, you need to change the powers," he said.

Myrin stopped short of endorsing Tanner's position. Instead, he said lawmakers need to keep in mind what he described as the underlying principles of the state's relationship with Olympic organizers.

Those principles boil down to a promise made years ago when Salt Lake City was still just bidding for the Olympics, that the Games should not be paid for with tax dollars.

"I'm looking forward to a positive time with the Olympics, but we do need to keep these principles in mind as we move ahead," he said.

That doesn't rule out the government providing some services to Olympic organizers at no cost, he said. Such services as security, health inspections and even snow removal are going to be needed from state and local agencies.

And state and local taxpayers are contributing $59 million to build Olympic facilities including a bobsled and luge track near Park City, which Olympic organizers are going to buy in 1999 if not before.

But when they pay for them has become an issue. Last session, organizers failed to get lawmakers to move the payment due date from January - before the Games begin - to after the event is over.

Olympic organizers are already lobbying again for the date change, citing difficulties in arranging a bank loan if they are forced to repay the bulk of the money before the Games end.

The loan is needed because the organizing committee won't receive much of its revenues - from television networks, corporate sponsors and other sources - until after the Games.

Myrin also reminded the interim committee members that legislators set the repayment date for January 2002 to make sure the state and local governments got their money back.

The committee also got a visit from the state's new Olympic coordinator, John Fowler. Fowler, a former LDS Church general authority, was appointed to the post recently by Gov. Mike Leavitt.

Fowler's job is to watch out for the state's interests in the Olympics, especially contracts between state agencies and the organizing committee. Although he reports to the governor, he hopes to also represent lawmakers.

Fowler told the interim committee members that he appreciated Tanner's positive statements and said his goal is to ensure a fiscally responsible Games.

"There's not indication in any way they won't be able to do that," Fowler said of Olympic organizers, noting that they were committed to spending only what they could raise.

The chairman of the interim committee, Sen. L. Steven Poulton, R-Holladay, said Fowler has a difficult assignment. "I don't know that you've got that easy of a job. From our standpoint, you're the guy," Poulton said.

Poulton said there is no guarantee that revenues will come in as planned, and the state has no control over spending by Olympic organizers. "I think it's pretty obvious who's going to end up with the ultimate liability," he said.