The Olympics do, indeed present a unique opportunity for the state to build its image worldwide and attract economic development, as Gov. Mike Leavitt believes. His "1,000-day plan," which he has only hinted at and which will be announced in detail during his state-of-the-state address Jan. 28, has been billed as a way to capitalize on the opportunity.
But Leavitt will have a difficult challenge selling any type of program that increases spending during a year when lawmakers are struggling to cut $202 million from state budgets. The state may be facing a difficult choice — whether to cut important programs that help the poor and elderly in exchange for programs that could pay off big in years to come.
To win this one, the governor needs to offer concrete specifics that promise tangible results.
A few things already are known about Leavitt's plan. He wants to create six new high-tech high schools, which would be set aside specifically for students interested in math, science or engineering. These schools would, presumably, offer rigorous curricula that result in graduates receiving not only a high school diploma, but an associate degree, as well.
Such a plan is entirely consistent with the governor's goal of increasing the number of math, science and engineering graduates in Utah. It also would be a bold move in the direction of school choice within the public system, allowing students to transfer to schools that better meet their needs. But it would cost money. Some of that may come from private foundations, but some undoubtedly would have to come from other public schools.
The plan also would increase Utah's economic development efforts abroad, and it would use the Olympic publicity the state receives to increase tourism in a variety of ways. It may also include a thrust toward emphasizing the state's high quality of life, which some have interpreted as possibly meaning tax breaks for big businesses.
Like all Utahns, we anxiously await the details of these plans. Leavitt is right when he says the Olympics will give Utah a unique boost of positive publicity. No doubt the entire state budget wouldn't be enough to buy the kind of advertising the Games will provide worldwide. That boost will naturally fade over time, whether in 1,000 days or more.
It would be foolish the let the opportunity pass. We applaud the governor's initiative in devising a plan and hope he has found a way to pay for it without making things even tougher in a tough economy.