Hours before Gov. Mike Leavitt backed off comments he made regarding state investment in the 2002 Winter Olympics, the state's senior U.S. senator told Utah lawmakers that might not be such a bad idea.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the 2002 Winter Games are an incredible opportunity for the state to promote itself to prospective businesses and sustain current levels of economic growth.And if the state decides it needs to do more than just lend $59 million for Olympic facilities, it should take that step, Hatch told the Utah Senate.
Hatch harkened back to his first years as a U.S. senator and how difficult it was to attract businesses to Utah. But with Republicans and Democrats working together - a theme he stressed Monday - the state slowly but surely started to attract clean-air companies offering decent job opportunities for Utahns.
"I think we've got to keep doing that," he told legislators. "If it takes a little more money for the Olympics, I think we've got to do it, because it's our image, it's our state, it's our future. It's an attraction to (recruit) great clean-air businesses."
Hatch visited both the Senate and House on Monday. He made jokes about President Clinton, talked up his tobacco bill, shared a fellow congressman's optimism on road funding and said the United States has to find a way to stop Saddam Hussein.
All of those comments were made in response to questions. And since Hatch elected not to make a speech to either body, there was time for plenty of them.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Scott Howell played the role of game-show host, quizzing Hatch on several issues. He brought up recent media reports that Utah taxpayers could be asked to pay for some programs that are part of the 2002 Winter Games effort.
Howell said he's a strong supporter of the Olympics and wondered if Hatch felt Utah needed to invest more money into the Games beyond the $59 million loan.
"I don't know enough about that. I think you're going to have to make that decision," Hatch responded initially.
"But I'll say this: If it takes that, do it. . . . It could mean a tremendous amount to our state.
"I have to say we are one of the three software capitals of the world now and we want to keep it that way."
Leavitt held a press conference later Monday, upon his return from the Winter Olympics, to clarify what he meant by comments made Saturday in Japan. Leavitt said he is not now suggesting that Utah taxpayers pick up part of the Olympic tab.
Hatch said Utah will get some federal help to stage the Games - probably in the neighborhood of $130 million for security and other needs.
"We've been giving an average of $130 million" to Olympic-host cities, he said. "We're trying to get that to $180 (million for Utah), but that's a lot of money and will be hard to do."
Hatch didn't charge Senate President Lane Beattie a dime for the compact disc of 10 love songs Hatch wrote. But Hatch joked that President Clinton had purchased 10 copies of his new CD.
"I'm not sure who he's going to give them to," he quipped. "I just couldn't resist that."