Out West Roundup: Utah needs $39M to improve venues for new Winter Olympics bid, audit says

Author: Associated Press - October 27, 2017 - Updated: November 3, 2017

In this Feb. 8, 2002, file photo, fireworks burst over the athlete tribune at the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City during the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Salt Lake City is forming an exploratory committee to decide if the city will bid to host another Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030. (AP Photo/Frank Gunn, File)In this Feb. 8, 2002, file photo, fireworks burst over the athlete tribune at the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City during the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Salt Lake City is forming an exploratory committee to decide if the city will bid to host another Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030. (AP Photo/Frank Gunn, File)


Audit: Utah needs $39M to improve venues for new Olympic bid

SALT LAKE CITY — A foundation that runs venues from the 2002 Winter Olympics in the Salt Lake City area needs $39 million over the next decade for infrastructure improvements that would put the city in position to make a bid for a future Olympics in 2026 or 2030, according to a new state audit.

The Utah Legislature’s auditor recommended that state lawmakers consider taxpayer-funded options because the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation loses about $4 million yearly operating facilities that include a speed skating oval, ski jump and bobsled tracks. Those losses are currently covered by interest that comes from a $76 million fund created after the games.

The audit was released a day after state officials announced the formation of an exploratory committee to prepare for a possible new Olympic bid.

The cost estimate of the repairs is not an estimate of what it would cost to host another Olympics. The city had previously estimated it could put on a Winter Olympics for about $2 billion, but the exploratory committee will come up with a new cost estimate before it completes its report by February of next year.

The U.S. Olympic Committee board said last week it’s interested in trying to bring the Winter Olympics to the U.S. in 2026 or 2030. The committee has until next March to pick a city. U.S. cities that have expressed interest so far also include Denver and Reno, Nevada.

New Mexico

George R.R. Martin mixes business, politics at film forum

SANTA FE — Author and film producer George R. R. Martin waded into the politics of movie-industry tax breaks last week while endorsing a prominent Democratic candidate for governor of New Mexico.

Martin, a longtime Santa Fe resident and author of fantasy novels behind the “Game of Thrones” television series, made a plea to raise or eliminate New Mexico’s $50 million annual limit on the state’s tax incentive for film production.

At an hour-long forum about New Mexico’s film industry, Martin sat alongside Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 who last week announced she would seek to expand tax incentives for film and television production and look for ways to encourage the construction of new production studio space.

Earlier this year, a bill to raise the annual limit on the film tax credit and link future annual increase to inflation failed to win approval in the Democratic-led Legislature.

Martin and Lujan Grisham highlighted the sometimes intangible benefits of the film production, as tourists are drawn to the state by on-screen images, from the Robert Redford’s 1988 “The Milagro Beanfield War” shot in Northern New Mexico, to the “Breaking Bad” series that still draws steady streams of cult fans to Albuquerque shooting locations.

Dona Ana County official enters race for lieutenant governor

The Democratic race for New Mexico lieutenant is getting crowded, with a member of the Dona Ana County Commission being the fifth and latest hopeful to join the contest.

Billy Garrett has served on the county commission since 2011. He announced his candidacy for the state office Friday.

Other candidates for the Democratic nomination include state Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque, retired Eagle Nest teacher Jeff Carr, former state House Majority Leader Rick Miera of Albuquerque and juvenile probation officer David McTeigue of Rio Rancho.

The party’s nominee will run on a ticket with the Democratic nominee for governor.

Former Indian Affairs Department Secretary Kelly Zunie is running for the Republican Party nomination.


Project to revamp Wyoming Interstate 80 corridor could cost billions

CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s 400-mile Interstate 80 corridor is going to see more traffic in coming years, and making sure its facilities are accommodating and safe is going to come at a high cost.

But with a potential influx of federal dollars for infrastructure projects in coming years, Wyoming is making sure it starts the conversation about how to address the project now.

Consultants presented a report to the Wyoming Transportation Commission last week that outlines the beginnings of a master plan for the I-80 corridor across the entire southern portion of the state.

Any proposal for a major redevelopment of I-80 is going to be in the range of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, said Bill Panos, Wyoming Department of Transportation director. But he said the increase in traffic volumes in the corridor over the next 10 years is going to be significant.

It’s telling of the economic times in Wyoming that Panos said, “We simply don’t have that energy revenue that’s flowing in to keep up.” Since 2016, Wyoming agencies have been cut across the board following a downturn in energy prices.

The study is looking at implementing tolls along the corridor and what the benefit would be versus the cost of travelers diverting to toll-free paths. The preliminary report includes analysis of the possibility of 10- and 25-cent per mile tolls.

Tolling was previously discussed but rejected by the Wyoming Legislature, but Panos said it’s important simply to provide information to elected officials about options for funding construction, operation and maintenance of the roadway.


Nebraska school to offer in-state tuition to Colorado, Kansas undergrads

KEARNEY, Nebraska — The University of Nebraska at Kearney is offering in-state tuition rates to Colorado and Kansas residents who are accepted as regular on-campus undergraduate students.

The university said it will offer a new Advantage Scholarship that effectively decreases the tuition rate for those students to $198 per credit hour, beginning in fall 2018.

Kansas students currently pay $288, which is 150 percent of resident tuition under an agreement among 10 Midwestern states. Colorado is not part of that group, and students from there currently pay $418 per credit hour to attend the university. Officials say qualifying students could save an average of nearly $28,000 over four years.


ACLU sues over Kansas law that targets Israel boycotts

TOPEKA, Kansas — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit last week on behalf of a teacher challenging Kansas’ new law barring state contractors from participating in boycotts against Israel, saying it’s a clear violation of her free speech rights.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Esther Koontz, a math and science curriculum coach at a Wichita public school, seeks to overturn a law that took effect July 1 and prohibits the state from entering into contracts with individuals or companies participating in a boycott of Israel.

Twenty-one states have such policies, from liberal California to conservative strongholds such as Alabama and Texas; in Kansas, the measure had strong bipartisan support. (A bipartisan 2016 Colorado law requiring the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association to divest from companies that boycott Israel passed by wide margins.)

States have enacted their laws in recent years amid an increasingly visible movement protesting Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. Backers of boycotting Israeli companies argue that they’re defending Palestinians’ human rights, while boycott critics contend the goal is to destroy the Jewish state.

“The government does not get to use its leverage to silence one side of the debate,” Brian Hauss, an ACLU attorney, told The Associated Press. The ACLU is asking to have enforcement of the law blocked while the case proceeds.

Associated Press

Associated Press