Three of every four Utahns, according to polls, favor a Salt Lake bid to host the 1998 Winter Olympics. If successful, the event could put the entire state in the world spotlight with enormous economic, tourism and image benefits for years to come.

It's an effort that ought to be made, since Utah's chances appear to be excellent. But it requires financial commitment as well as enthusiasm.The Utah House of Representatives took a positive step in that direction this week with a unanimous vote to set aside a fraction of the local option sales tax for the Olympic bid. The Senate should quickly pass the same measure.

Under the plan, the state would provide 1/64 of a cent from its 5-cent sales tax levy and towns and cities would add another 1/64 of a cent from their 1-cent sales tax levy. Together, those sums would provide about $4 million a year.

That money would be enough over a 10-year period to finance $40 million worth of facilities, particularly bobsled and luge courses and a speed-skating rink. The U.S. Olympic Committee requires that these be in place or firmly promised before it chooses any city as the Games site.

In addition to use at the Games, such facilities could be used for training Olympic athletes for years to come and would boost Utah's goal of becoming America's winter sports capital.

With a financial commitment firmly in hand, Salt Lake City can make an impressive bid to the U.S. Olympic Committee next June.

Colorado reportedly is seeking a postponement of the bid date to October, but that should not be allowed. Other nations already have chosen their candidate cities for the 1998 games and any delay would put the United States even further behind in preparing the bid for the International Olympics Committee.

If the Salt Lake bid is accepted by the USOC in June, then the Olympic question would be placed on the November ballot.

But once Utah was the choice, it would make no sense for voters to reject the idea, particularly since local organizers have been careful to address environmental concerns. Fragile Big and Little Cottonwood canyons have been excluded as sites for Olympic events in the Salt Lake bid.

If Utah wins the bid in June, the USOC will throw its resources into the competition with other countries for the 1998 Games. The International Olympic Committee will make its decision in 1991. The possibility that the U.S. would be chosen is considered high.

The 1998 Games should produce enough revenue to pay back the $40 million in tax money invested in facilities. Cost of hosting the Games is estimated at $300 million to $400 million, while revenues are estimated from $390 million to $487 million, a majority of it in television rights that would be guaranteed before the games ever started.

Considering all that Utah could gain for decades to come, the publisher and editorial board of the Deseret News feel that the Olympic bid deserves solid support.

Utahns should join hands in a concerted effort to make the state the focus of world attention in 1998. The ability and know-how are there. All that is needed is the determination to make it work.