SALT LAKE CITY — Hosting the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah will be a “unique and amazing” opportunity for the entire state, but it comes at a price, lawmakers learned Wednesday.
Officials representing the U. and the Utah Debate Commission asked members of the Utah Legislature’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee for $1.5 million to help cover security and other costs of hosting the event on Oct. 7 in Kingsbury Hall.
“These are things that are just expensive. An unscalable fence has to go around the perimeter, the tenting, the security issues associated with it. They’re just costs,” said Jason Perry, the university’s vice president of government relations and chairman of the debate steering committee.
A legislative appropriation would supplement private fundraising the University of Utah and the Utah Debate Commission are conducting for the event, Perry said.
The benefits of conducting the vice presidential debate in Utah are considerable, such as the national exposure with an expected 35 million viewers on television and online, the economic boost of lodging and dining for some 1,500 journalists as well as campaign staffers and others, as well as the educational opportunities for students, said Perry, director of the U.’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.
“This is really a chance for us to really showcase the state. And it’s not just University of Utah, by the way. This will be a chance for students at every single one of our universities to participate in something you do not get to see in your life like this. And so we’re just really fortunate to have it,” Perry said.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who requested the funding, said he looks forward to the opportunity.
“I don’t know if you’re excited like I am. But it might be Kamala Harris. It might Pete Buttigieg. We don’t know who the (candidate for) vice president will be. But it’ll be fun to have the focus of the world on Utah,” Weiler said.
Former Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, co-chairman of the Utah Debate Commission, said the debate “is going to be a big, big deal for us. We’ve already laid the seed money last year on this, we have to complete this or I think it’d be a black eye for Utah. So we are going to have that opportunity and we need to take advantage of it.”
Rep. Kelly Miles, R-South Ogden, questioned what would happen if lawmakers didn’t fund the request.
“What if we don’t have the funding for the security and that? What would happen? Are there other options? Are there? ... What is our drop-dead date where we’d have to tell them?” Miles asked.
“We’re doing this,” Perry said.
“If you don’t help, we going to have to start going to all your friends.”
Niederhauser added: “We’re in the deep end of the pool. We have to swim.”
According to earlier estimates, the event will cost $5 million to $6 million to stage. The Utah Legislature already put up $2.5 million, according to an earlier report.
The 2016 debate between vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine at Longwood University in Virginia attracted about 37 million views, roughly half of the presidential debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, according to an earlier Deseret News report.
The subcommittee took no action but will weigh the request with others it will prioritize later in the session.