With all this talk about how much the Olympics are going to cost, I have an idea. Let's put Scott Layden in charge.
By now he may be tired of dealing with spoiled athletes who won't live up to contracts. But anyone who can make other NBA teams see the value of trading good players for mediocre players ought to be able to find a way to make up the billions of dollars we all seem to be lacking to put on quality Games in 2002.The past couple of weeks haven't been stellar for the 2002 Olympics public relations machine. First, Utah's Senate minority leader, Scott Howell, returned from Nagano with this message: "You just don't understand the magnitude of the Olympics until you experience it." That was an honest assessment, but it led to obvious concerns about what the magnitude is going to mean to us personally.
Then, Gov. Mike Leavitt and Olympic coordinator John Fowler said state taxpayers may have to pick up some of the costs of recruiting volunteers, etc. Hovering in the background is the figure $13 billion, which keeps flashing on and off like a distant warning signal. That is the estimated cost of the Nagano Games, and most of it comes courtesy of Japanese taxpayers. As everyone knows, costs aren't expected to go down over the next four years. Thirteen billion just won't buy what it used to.
Then, as the coup de grace to Utah's Olympic week of good news, Salt Lake's Olympic boss, Frank Joklik, told a Deseret News reporter he was too busy watching things in Japan to comment on the question of whether taxpayers would have to pay more for 2002. He said he would not "stand here in Nagano trying to guess at these things."
Yes, Frank, we understand. We don't feel like standing over here, either. Most of us by now are sitting down.
It's as if we all just bought a car, signed the contract and are now sitting in the manager's office being told we have to pay for all the extras. We can't back out. Not now. Not on the verge of a closing ceremony that will tell the world to come here in four years.
That's where Scott Layden could help. Maybe he could talk us into paying more and feeling good about it. Or maybe he could organize some of the world's greatest recording artists to come to town for a benefit. They did it for the people of Ethiopia and for Farm Aid. Why not put on "Olympic Aid"? He could do it for less than the cost of a backup center.
Perhaps things aren't as bad as they seem. As the governor came home from Japan and began dancing around questions in an effort to soften the public relations disaster, the picture became a little more clear. The $13 billion Nagano figure does not translate directly to the $1 billion the Salt Lake Organizing Committee was planning to spend for the Games here. It includes the construction of facilities and roads and other things we already have.
Utah doesn't need to build a Delta Center. It already has one, and it built both it and the E Center for just over $100 million combined, most of it from private money. While highway construction is not cheap, the state already has come to terms with it.
What Utah hasn't come to terms with are all the ancillary costs. These have to do with a lot more than just training volunteers and organizing cultural events. They have to do with the simple mathematics of accommodation. You can't invite thousands of people to your house without expecting to incur some costs. In this case, everything from police departments to sewage systems will have to handle the extra loads.
And, as the governor and Howell both said, the state will need to pay a little more to take advantage of economic development opportunities. That's understandable, but what does it mean? We're left with the nagging feeling that we just don't have a handle on what it all is going to cost or whether it can be handled without raising taxes.
Olympic organizers have said they are in the process of rebuilding the budget from the ground up. That's good. But when they have it in place, they need to be honest about it, as well as all the little extras, and they shouldn't tell those of us who may have to pay that they are too busy to talk about it.
Actually, this is a bad time to start arguing over money, now that the glitter and glitz of the Olympics is still fresh in our minds and on our television sets. We need to wait until the adrenaline wears off.
As Layden now knows after a week of wrangling over a trade for Rony Seikaly, the excitement of the moment can quickly melt away into reality.