Utah Officials Defend Olympic Support


Salt Lake City, Utah Dec. 6, 2001 (AP by Paul Foy)--Utah officials were smarting Wednesday from charges they used the Winter Olympics to fleece federal taxpayers of $1.5 billion.

``Balderdash,'' said Salt Lake Olympic chief Mitt Romney, who insisted the federal contribution for the games was no more than $350 million for things like security and temporary parking lots.

The larger figure tallied by Sports Illustrated includes the cost of rebuilding Utah highways and building a light-rail system. Both projects were put on a fast track because of the Olympics.

"It's the same rehash,'' said Romney, recalling Arizona Sen. John McCain's complaints about pork-barrel spending for Utah.

Much of the state's deft maneuvering for federal support came before Romney took over the scandal-plagued Salt Lake Organizing Committee, ``so I don't have a dog in this fight,'' he said.

In a report released last week, the Government Accounting Office left out of its Olympic estimate the $1.1 billion in federal funding for the light-rail system and the rebuilding of Interstate 15 and other Utah highways.

``The road work is money we would have gotten anyway,'' state Olympic officer Lane Beattie said Wednesday.

Salt Lake's light rail ``has nothing to do with the Olympics,'' Beattie said. ``It wasn't sold on the Olympics.''

In fact, one rail spur that goes to the Olympic stadium will be shut down on ceremony days because of security concerns.

Sports Illustrated noted in its Dec. 10 issue that the federal government doesn't pay for parking lots for Super Bowl cities or fund NBA drug testing.

``Putting on the Olympics is nothing like hosting a Super Bowl,'' Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, responded.

``No city in the U.S. or anywhere else could put on the Olympics without massive government support. In Japan, the government spent 10 times the amount spent on the Utah games and still didn't handle traffic as well as we will,'' he said.

Bennett said he agreed with McCain's suggestion that one federal authority should coordinate and account for all federal spending for the next U.S. Olympic city. Bennett said the next federal Olympic tab would be much higher.

Romney also defended businessmen who are benefiting from state and federal spending on roads at Utah winter resorts.

``Earl Holding is a multibillionaire. He doesn't need a little 4- or 5-mile highway to make him rich,'' Romney said.

The federal government spent $15 million on an access road for Holding, 75, an oilman and owner of two Salt Lake City hotels and Snowbasin resort, the downhill ski venue.

``There's no question when the government builds a road or sewer, all those things benefit the people who have properties nearby,'' Romney said.

The Olympics are getting more expensive mainly because of transportation and security needs, he said.

``These numbers are going up and up,'' Romney said. ``It's a new world, and it's a dangerous world.''

Sports Illustrated said federal spending for the Salt Lake Games will average $625,000 for each of the 2,400 athletes, a 996 percent increase from the $57,000 per athlete spent in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press