Some Salt Lake Olympics skeptics saying what quacks like a duck, is a duck - claim a $15,000 donation from the Salt Lake airport to the city's Olympics bid violates a pledge to resist spending public money on the bid.
Last November, Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said the city should use public money as a last resort for the roughly $200,000 effort to secure the U.S. bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics from the U.S. Olympics Committee in June.But last week the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee received a Salt Lake City Corp. check for $15,000 from the nine-member Airport Authority Board, which governs the Salt Lake International Airport.
The Airport Authority Board includes Organizing Committee Chairman Tom Welch and, as an ex-officio member, City Councilwoman Sydney Fonnesbeck, an Olympics backer.
City officials say the money is from the airport's separate enterprise fund, not the city's tax-based general fund, and the bottom line is the money isn't coming directly from taxpayers, in keeping with the mayor's vow.
"When people hear public money, they think general fund," DePaulis said.
But Gale Dick, University of Utah dean of graduate schools and self-styled "Olympics skeptic" on the city's organizing committee, said use of the airport's money flies in the face of the DePaulis promise.
"I don't think as a taxpayer it's in the spirit of the agreement as I would read it. I would take that commitment to mean precisely what it says," he said.
"If it's money paid into an airport that is publicly controlled, basically it's public money, there's just no way to escape it," said Olympic opponent Alexis Kelner.
"I think they're breaking faith with the promises they've made," he said.
Airport Director Louis Miller, conceding the money could be construed as coming from public coffers, said the money comes strictly from airlines using the airport who pay a user fee for the privilege.
"I don't mind saying they're public funds, the mayor controls it and we are a public agency," he said.
"But the public is not paying. (The donation) is being paid by the users at the airport, that being the airlines." Miller said he obtained approval from seven major Salt Lake airlines for the donation.
But like Salt Lake citizens who pay for services they obtain from the city, airlines pay for similar services at the airport, Dick said. "I regard the airlines as fellow taxpayers," he said.
What's more, expenditures such as the $15,000 donation for which airlines are held accountable are simply passed on to taxpayers who are airport consumers, he said.
"It gets into a definitional thing," said Mike Zuhl, the mayor's chief of staff, "but it's not general taxpayer's dollars, which I think is really what we're really trying to get at. We don't want to tap tax dollars."
Dick said the commitment to a pledge against use of public money is a good barometer for city officials who say they will be morally bound to the results of a legally non-binding referendum vote on the Olympics next fall.