Facebook Twitter

Time to chew on SLOC budget

SHARE Time to chew on SLOC budget

Digesting a $1.45 million budget takes a little time and is bound to cause a bit of indigestion. No one, then, should be surprised that Gov. Mike Leavitt and Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini insisted on extra time to chew on details of the 2002 Winter Games financial plan put forth by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

In fact, they ought to be commended. Such scrutiny is more than the politicians' right; it is their responsibility before rendering the city and state endorsement required to make the budget final, pending International Olympic Committee approval. For them to do otherwise would be an abdication of the public trust.They are not merely double-checking arithmetic but approving a sizable policy statement that details what SLOC will fund from specific revenues and what will be left out. The public would be well-served if some healthy differences of opinion refined the final product before its adoption.

Leavitt's questions to SLOC focus on inadequate revenue contingencies: What would happen if the promised money is not delivered? As a guarantor, the state and its taxpayers could be left with the bill. Any person or entity assuming such risk had better make certain everything is in order before they sign on.

The organizing committee owes the state and the University of Utah a total of $139 million. Before the Olympics, it will pay back only the $59 million that taxpayers put up to build facilities such as the bobsled and luge track near Park City and the speed-skating oval in Kearns. It will pay the rest afterward, through the year 2004.

In a statement to SLOC trustees, Leavitt noted the risk of changing economic conditions over the next few years and requested contingency plans for revenue shortfalls of up to $100 million. He is acutely aware of that possibility, having just instructed departments of state government to hold next year's budget requests to a 2 percent increase due to a slowing economy.

Likewise, the mayor wants to know who will pick up the "extraordinary costs" to local governments of hosting the Games. She also wants to ensure the city doesn't miss any opportunities for long-term "legacy" projects. Those would include a permanent plaza used for medal ceremonies during the 2002 Games - a plaza that is left to the city afterward as a pleasant enhancement.

Those significant revenue questions aside, political leaders and others have expressed no concerns over budget line items. The details of these ought to be released for public scrutiny. For example, SLOC's decision to enhance the 2002 speed-skating oval, the signature venue at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, was a good one. Withholding any portion of the budget would only foster suspicion and should be avoided.

It is in everyone's best interest to lay all fiscal issues on the table, review them thoroughly as Leavitt and Corradini have insisted on doing, then adopt a budget that is heartily endorsed across private and public sectors.