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Clinton's Olympic veto shows his distaste for Utah

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 15 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah, how does President Clinton love thee? Let us count yet another way.

Last week when he used the line-item veto for the first time on an appropriations bill, he vetoed your Olympic Village.He cut $12.7 million needed to move Army Reserve operations from a portion of Fort Douglas, which was needed to make way for planned athlete housing there.

Clinton's press secretary, Mike McCurry, says the president realized the Olympic tie. But, shucks, he had to follow rigid guidelines he established for choosing which projects should be cut - and the Utah project met them.

Of course, others say Clinton didn't know beforehand that he was zapping the Olympics - and had axed the project in large part because it was in Utah, where he isn't exactly loved anyway and where its politicians normally can't do too much to retaliate.

Even the national press picked up on that. The Washington Post story on it used this descriptive one-word lead paragraph: "Oops."

So who is right? Did Clinton really know the Olympics would be affected - or is his administration fibbing to cover up embarrassment caused by possible we-hate-Utah-and-like-to-tweak-it tunnel vision? Consider some evidence.

First, Army officers testified in the Senate last week that the Utah project actually did NOT meet two of the three criteria that Clinton established for deciding what should be vetoed.

They said construction actually could begin in 1998 (Clinton said he cut only projects where that wasn't possible), and the military feels it would enhance its mission and quality of life (which, again, cut projects were not supposed to do). The only criteria it met was that it wasn't in Clinton's original budget and had been added by Congress.

Second, Utah politicians - both Republicans and Democrats - say they were told by the administration that it didn't realize the Olympics tie and that it has pledged to somehow restore the project because of it.

That includes Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini, a Democrat like Clinton. She says she heard a rumor about the impending cut only an hour before it was announced. She quickly called the White House to try to stop it, but was told it was too late - and that the administration didn't know about its Olympic tie.

Third, the episode seems to mirror other similar actions by Clinton regarding the state he seems to love to hate.

For example, no one in the White House called any Utah politician to check out the project - which would be a normal courtesy. That's similar to what happened last year when Clinton formed the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Documents show the White House talked to Democrats from surrounding states about how that monument would play politically. But the White House insisted to Utah leaders - including Democratic Rep. Bill Orton - that no such action was imminent. It was then formed within days. And Utah officials were given details only on the day Clinton created it.

Utah - where Clinton received the lowest vote percentage of any state in both his elections, and where he actually finished third in 1992 - has also been targeted in other ways by the administration.

Clinton's first-ever line-item veto of parts of a tax bill just happened to remove provisions designed to help a farming cooperative take over a sugar factory in Ogden.

And, of course, he has constantly fought plans to close Air Force bases in vote-rich Texas and California that compete directly with Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The administration also pushed successfully to close Tooele Army Depot and Defense Depot Ogden and unsuccessfully to close Dugway Proving Ground.

In short, Clinton likely thought he was just tweaking Utah again, but ended up also hurting the Olympics - which is akin politically to clubbing baby seals.

So he likely will comply with pledges to salvage the project somehow since the Olympics are popular. Otherwise, the project would surely be dead, and yet another sign by Clinton of how much he loves Utah's past support.

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