Utah's five-man delegation to Capitol Hill may be small, but it is well-positioned, through committee assignments and seniority, to funnel pork back home. Representative Merrill Cook, a Republican who represented a Salt Lake City district in the late 1990s, was a member of the House Transportation Committee and used the Games as leverage to win huge increases for Utah highway and transit projects.
In 1998, for example, he helped push through a $75 million hike in federal money for Utah highways. Shifting the cost of the Games to taxpayers elsewhere was good news for Utah. "It means any talk of a tax increase at home has been laid to rest," said Cook. In what should have won him a gold medal for chutzpah, Cook told the Deseret News that he had obtained additional dollars by stressing the state's "great burden of hosting the 2002 Winter Games on America's behalf."
Over in the Senate fellow Republican Bennett, a member of the Appropriations Committee, has been even more effective in delivering federal funds, for everything from light-rail cars to the weather-forecasting unit. In a 1998 appropriations bill he wrote in language permitting the Secretary of Transportation to use discretionary funds for the Games. "If Utah hadn't had somebody on Appropriations, there is no way a lot of that would have gotten through," says one Senate staffer.
Bennett frequently bypassed the Commerce Committee, which should have had jurisdiction over Olympic funding. The practice so angered fellow Republican senator John McCain of Arizona, then chairman of the committee, that in 1998 he began asking Bennett, repeatedly, to provide Congress with an estimate of "how many of the taxpayers' dollars are going to be needed to fund the Olympics." Three years later McCain is still waiting for an answer. (Last week Bennett offered an answer of sorts, in the form of a General Accounting Office audit; see box, page 87.)
In addition to being represented on crucial committees, Utah has profited enormously from the influence exercised by Republican senator Orrin Hatch, dean of the state's congressional delegation. As one of the Senate's more senior members, Hatch, a master of legislative manipulation and backroom deal-making, has ardently advanced and protected his state's Olympic agenda.
The irony in the flow of cash to the Beehive State is that Utah's congressional delegation has a history of opposing federal spending on projects that specifically benefit other states. The delegation has even opposed federal spending on Winter Olympics when those Games were held someplace other than Utah: Former Utah congressman Koln (limn McKay, a Democrat, not only voted against federal funds for the 1980 Lake Placid Games but also was one of only four members of the House who voted against endorsing Lake Placid as the site for the Olympics. For all it has been asking from Washington, Utah contributes less to the U.S. Treasury than most other states. In 1999 individuals and families in Utah paid on average $6,600 in income tax, well below the national average of $9,000.
Yet Utah's congressmen have delivered for their state. Many of the Olympic outlays have sailed through the House and Senate because Utah's representatives buried them in huge spending bills. Typical was an item in a 1999 measure appropriating funds for scores of projects, from renovating a Head Start facility in Alabama to constructing a center for disabled preschool children in New York City. Tucked amid page after page of tiny type was this: "$1,000,000 million [sic] to the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee for housing infrastructure improvements for the Olympics and Paralympics.".
A million dollars here, a million dollars there—who will notice? Not a lot of Congressmen from the other 49 states, it seems, and certainly not the average American taxpayer.
THE LAND GRAB
Earl Holding is an oilman (Sinclair Oil Corp.), hotelier (Little America), ski resort proprietor ( Sun Valley, Idaho), rancher and one of the country's largest landholders. He owns about 500,000 acres in Utah, Wyoming, Montana and other western states and rents, on the cheap, thousands more acres from the U.S. government for ranching. He also may be the biggest single beneficiary of Utah's landing the Olympic Games.