Salt Lake costs six times more than Lake Placid

Games ring up big bill

Posted: Friday, November 30, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The Salt Lake City Games will cost $1.9 billion, six times the cost of those in Lake Placid in 1980, the last Winter Olympics in the United States.

Taxpayers will pay 18 percent of the cost, or $342 million, nearly twice as much money as they did in 1980, according to a General Accounting Office report released Thursday. That does not include an estimated $50 million that will be spent on additional security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Lake Placid games cost $363 million when adjusted for inflation, with $179 million from the federal government.

However, three times as many athletes will compete in nearly twice as many events in Salt Lake City, the GAO said. In conjunction with the Feb. 8-24 Olympics, Salt Lake City also will stage the Winter Paralympics, which is larger by itself than were the Lake Placid Olympics.

The 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, had an operating budget of $824 million, but the government spent billions on rail, highway and infrastructure improvements.

Salt Lake Olympic Committee President Mitt Romney said he had done his best to control costs, but that some increased expenses are unavoidable. For example, Salt Lake had to buy sophisticated timing devices that are far more expensive than what was used in Lake Placid. And security will be much greater and more expensive.

Romney said the budget would be even higher had he not trimmed $200 million after taking the job in 1999.

''(We) sought to reverse the trend of having each Olympic games be 'bigger and better' than the one before,'' he wrote in response to the GAO report. ''Our goal, instead, is to refocus the games on the basics of sport. The surrounding elements of the games -- the pageantry and many associated programs -- we've sought to reduce and eliminate whenever possible.''

Romney plans to give International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge a series of recommendations to hold down the costs of future games.

Most of the money for Salt Lake City -- $1.3 billion -- has been raised by the organizing committee. The rest comes from the federal government, Utah taxpayers ($150 million) and various local governments ($75 million).

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who used his seat on the Appropriations Committee to secure federal funding, said the expenses are justified. He noted the federal share of the overall budget for the Winter Olympics was 52 percent in 1980 and is 18 percent this time.

''As I've continually said, the 2002 Games are America's games, not just Salt Lake City's, and the participation of the U.S. government is not only an appropriate responsibility, but a privilege,'' he said.

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based government watchdog group, said too much money is going for expenses that taxpayers shouldn't be expected to fund.

''In Los Angeles, 95 percent of the federal share was for security. That should be the federal government's primary role -- almost the exclusive role,'' he said. ''Instead in Atlanta and now in Salt Lake, just over 50 percent is for security and the rest is for infrastructure and other activities that in many ways don't have a national significance.''

Los Angeles staged the 1984 Summer Games, while Atlanta was site of the 1996 Summer Games.

The GAO report does not include $1.1 billion in federal spending for transportation projects, such as Interstate 15 reconstruction and building a light rail system in Salt Lake City. Those projects will be in place for the Olympics, but were needed anyway, federal officials say.


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