Mass House rejects bid to ensure privately funded Olympics

House lawmakers on Monday night rejected an opportunity to protect tax dollars from being used to directly support a bid for the 2024 summer Olympics despite stated support for that objective in the past from Beacon Hill's top leaders.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, along with Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, have all said they would support a ballot initiative barring the use of taxpayer money for the Olympics. Yet when House lawmakers were given the chance to do so during their first night of state budget debate the fight was left to one lone Republican.

Rep. Geoff Diehl sponsored an amendment to prevent tax dollars from being used "to procure, host, aid, further or remediate the effects of, the 2024 Olympics." The amendment permitted transportation investments "even if such expenditures may also facilitate procuring, hosting, aiding, furthering, or remediating the effects of, the 2024 Olympics."

"What we're trying to avoid is having the taxpayers on the hook for overruns. I urge the membership to pass this amendment so we don't have to wait for the ballot question to come about and have it passed for us," said Diehl, whose amendment calling for a privately-funded Olympics surfaced after 8 p.m. Monday.

When Diehl asked for a roll call vote, an insufficient number of both his Democratic and Republican colleagues rose to meet the threshold for a recorded vote. His amendment was then defeated on a voice vote.

No one spoke in opposition to Diehl's amendment prior to its defeat. On Tuesday a DeLeo spokesman said he remains concerned about Olympics costs.

"Speaker DeLeo is focused on taking a comprehensive look at costs related to the Olympics. He is currently working with the Senate President and Administration, which is in the midst of selecting an outside consultant to study Olympics-related costs," DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell said in a statement after the News Service asked for an explanation from amendment opponents.

Diehl on Tuesday said he was "deeply disappointed" that his amendment fell to defeat. "Once again a ballot question is going to have to protect the taxpayers due to a failure of the legislature," he said.

Boston 2024 Olympic bid organizers have said they intend to put together a bid without relying on public funding, except for transportation projects already in the state pipeline and federal funds for security.

Evan Falchuk, the 2014 independent gubernatorial candidate, proposed draft ballot language concerning public financing for the Olympics that Diehl mirrored in his budget amendment. On Tuesday, Falchuk criticized political leaders in the House for shirking their responsibility.

"If our elected leaders are serious when they say they don't want taxpayers to foot the bill for the Olympics, why won't they just pass a law that says that? Nearly all of our elected leaders want to wait for a ballot question so taxpayers can do their job for them, and it's a stunning abdication of responsibility. On this issue, Democrats and Republicans are in bed together and, it seems, in the tank for Boston 2024," Falchuk said in a statement.

Baker partnered with DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg in late March to seek bids for a public consultant who could help the Legislature and the executive branch vet the plans and cost for a possible Boston Olympics. Setting aside up to $250,000 for the consultant, the three leaders said they hoped to hire someone by early May and would ask for a report by July.

Also in March, Baker said during a radio appearance that he hoped to work with the House and Senate to develop language of a ballot question that the Legislature could put before voters in 2016, obviating the need for outside activists to gather signatures and hopefully heading off the possibility that multiple questions could be on the ballot.

Baker said a ballot question should address the role of taxpayer funding associated with the Olympics, as well as whether Boston should host the Olympics at all.

Boston 2024 officials have also said they will support a ballot question to gauge voter interest in hosting the Olympics, and would not go forward with a bid unless Massachusetts resident back the games.


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