What a refreshing difference a few months make when it comes to communications about the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
A gold medal for candor and openness goes to Utah Olympic Officer John Fowler who Tuesday said the state could step in to help local governments cover the cost of providing services to the Games. Cities shouldn't fear asking the state for help.Fowler's suggestion was part of his first annual report to the Legislature on the financial impact of the Olympics, delivered to the Sports Advisory, Legislative Management and Executive Appropriations committees.
Contrast that with the Keystone Kops routine that followed a Feb. 15 Deseret News story headlined "Taxes may help fund Games, Leavitt says." The non-denial denials regarding the state looking at helping to pay for volunteer training, arts and culture programs and community outreach efforts seemed like something scripted out of the Clinton White House. The only thing missing was Al Gore's "no legal controlling authority" speech.
The Olympics involves a learning curve and a growth process. What Tuesday's meeting showed is that those connected with the massive project have shown a lot of maturity since IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch uttered the words in Budapest in June 1995 that sent a lightning bolt through Utah - "the city of Salt Lake City" in awarding the Games to the state.
Most Utahns, according to a Deseret News poll, favor spending tax dollars on the 2002 Winter Games for everything from security forces to arts programs. And most Utahns - 71 percent - don't believe the Games can be hosted without asking taxpayers for more money.
The key is keeping the citizenry informed in an honest and open way. That's what happened Tuesday. And that's the pattern that needs to be followed through the completion of the Games.
Exactly where the money will come from to assist the various statewide communities in putting on the Games should be a subject for debate. Fowler offered a suggestion Tuesday, not a mandate.
As he noted, state government is projected to take in more than $47 million - plus an additional $23 million in school funds - because of the Olympics. However, estimates are state government will need about $28 million to handle the increased demand for services. For example, small towns around the Wasatch State Park, site of Olympic cross-country and biathlon events, will face a considerable increase in the number of people including athletes who are likely to reside in the area during the Games.
Salt Lake City and other communities have said they expect help from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to cover their costs. Negotiations between Salt Lake City and the organizing committee already are under way.
The likely scenario is there will be some kind of a combination of SLOC funds and appropriations by the Legislature to pay for Olympic-generated costs. It would not be wise for SLOC to assume the Legislature is now going to take on all of those expenses.
The communication and cooperation between SLOC and the Legislature needs to be at a high level throughout the Olympic process. That same principle also needs to be applied between those two bodies and the public.