Thursday, December 07, 2000

Olympics tax fund backup sought

Vehr: 'Rainy day' provision needed

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The chief organizer of a bid to bring the 2012 Olympics to Cincinnati may ask state lawmakers next year to pass legislation allowing tax dollars to be used as a buffer against financial catastrophe should the games come here.

        Nick Vehr said state law prohibits tax dollars from being committed to such an effort, but Cincinnati's chances could be jeopardized unless that law is changed. That's because the U.S. Olympic Committee wants a government or other entity to guarantee the games won't be mired in debt.

        “We're talking about essentially socking away money into a rainy day fund to satisfy the requirement of the USOC,” said Mr. Vehr, president of Cincinnati 2012, the local group courting the Olympics.

        “It is our belief it would never be needed.”

        Mr. Vehr said he also would lobby Kentucky lawmakers since both states stand to get more than $140 million in new taxes from the games. Financial pledges from corporations and private donors are another source he'll tap to bolster Cincinnati's bid.

        Earlier, Mr. Vehr promised no tax dollars would be used to bring the games to Cincinnati. He later clarified that statment, saying public funds won't be needed to operate the games but may be required to fund improvements to bring the games here.

        On Monday, he asked Hamilton County Commissioners to give his group $500,000 over the next two years to sustain the bid effort. Initial bids must be sent to USOC by Dec. 15, and a subsequent “USOC undertaking” document that includes the financial guarantee must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2001. The USOC will select one of eight U.S. cities to compete internationally.

        Mr. Vehr said his potential appeal to state lawmakers won't mean new taxes. He envisions setting aside funds generated specifically by the Olympics — such as property taxes from a new housing village for athletes. He projects the games would bring in $2.7 billion through broadcast rights, corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and other sources, generating a profit of $145 million.

        Commissioner John Dowlin said he won't approve Mr. Vehr's $500,000 request unless he can prove the Olympics will bring taxpayers more money than they have to pay. He added that Mr. Vehr should have informed commissioners of the needed financial guarantee earlier.

        “He should have said here's the issue, let's deal with it,” Mr. Dowlin said.

        Mr. Vehr said he wasn't hiding the requirement, noting that Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey and others knew about it when City Council passed a resolution in 1998 to pursue the games.

        The USOC has asked bid cities to include the guarantee as part of their bid packages since 1997, spokesman Mike Moran said. Mr. Moran said he understands other cities competing for the bid are arranging public financing guarantees.

        “Every city has been struggling with this,” Mr. Moran said. “If anybody is deficient and they are not going to be able to make it up, they are not going to be in the race.”


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