Utah lawmakers move in increase oversight of possible Winter Games
Legislation giving state lawmakers more say over another Winter Games in Utah is expected to be considered by the full House in front of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic officials after Tuesday’s committee approval.
Both HB430 and HCR8, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, were passed out of the House Government Operations Committee. Hawkins said he’s planning to schedule a floor vote Thursday, during a visit by the Colorado Springs-based USPOC.
The legislation spells out a new role for the Utah Legislature as the privately funded bid committee continues to await a decision now anticipated some time next year from the International Olympic Committee about who’ll host the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games.
Hawkins told the committee Gov. Spencer Cox already has the authority to sign the host city agreement but his legislation gives lawmakers a chance to review the deal first as well as creates a new legislative committee to oversee the Winter Games.
“It will be the Salt Lake City, Utah Games,” Hawkins said, adding Cox has the power to “negotiate with the IOC unilaterally. What this does is allow us as the body that controls the purse to be involved in that process to make sure the state has clarity on what’s happening.”
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Calvin Musselman, R-West Haven, asked if the legislation could be seen as “somewhat of a check and balance between the Legislature and the governor.”
Hawkins said that’s “extremely fair to say.”
The fiscal note for HB430 was not ready when the committee met, but the bill’s sponsor estimated it would be around $20,000, the cost of the new legislative panel meeting at least twice a year to hear reports from Olympic bidders and, potentially, organizers.
But Musselman suggested the price tag could be much higher, since signing the host city contract means accepting financial responsibility for staging a Winter Games that will cost more than $2.2 billion.
Just like in 2002, though, the proposed budget doesn’t include state or local tax dollars, relying on revenues from sponsors and other private sources, and an insurance policy could cover at least some losses due to delay or cancellation.
“It’s really a question as to whether or not we as the Legislature would want to take the risk of hosting the Games. That’s the real question,” Musselman said, noting that even with insurance, the state would be agreeing to step up for some amount of money if necessary.
Hawkins said he’s been assured by officials of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that the state guarantee is part of “a triple backstop” that also includes Salt Lake City as well as insurance.
He stopped short of speculating how much the state could be on the hook for if there’s an issue with a Winter Games, like what Tokyo experienced with a year-long delay of the 2020 Summer Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Musselman said representatives could discuss the issue when the bill comes to the House floor.
Two committee members voted against passing the bill out favorably: Vice Chairman Val Peterson, R-Orem, who questioned the lack of a fiscal note, and Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who had concerns about the need for a new committee to oversee the Olympics.
“We’re here to be a part-time body to create policy that’s implemented by the executive branch. We over and over and over insert ourselves into that process,” Thurston said, calling that an “inappropriate use of legislative time.”
Hawkins described the new committee’s duties as reviewing the bid and, if it’s successful, the impact of hosting and any security measures needed to protect the state’s financial interests.
While he has said previously the committee is intended only to have the ability to advise Olympic bidders and organizers, Hawkins noted the six lawmakers selected to serve on it would be able to recommend future legislation.
His resolution details the assurances the state intends to provide to the IOC for a future Winter Games, such as adequate transportation. Thurston, the lone vote against HCR8, asked if the IOC could force the state to pay for improvements like widening a highway.
Hawkins said any concerns the IOC has would be part of the host city contract negotiations. But, the representative said, he doesn’t think that will be a problem given the success of the 2002 Olympics.
Picks for both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games are now expected at some point next year, and other cities may end up bidding. Swedish authorities are set to review a proposal from Stockholm this spring.
The USOPC, which selected Salt Lake City over Denver four years ago to bid for a Winter Games on behalf of the U.S., has made it clear 2034 is preferable due to concerns about the financial impact of hosting just 18 months after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.