Editorial: Beijing sets the bar high

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The 2008 Olympics are barely under way in Beijing, but Illinoisans already are thinking eight years into the future: Chicago is asking municipalities throughout the state to bolster its bid for the 2016 Summer Games.

We're pretty stoked at the prospect of a Windy City Games, especially since Peoria might be in the running to serve as a training venue for athletes. Our proximity to Chicago would allow locals to catch the action, in person. Absent a Cubs World Series berth, the Olympics could be the biggest thing to hit Chicago since the World's Fair.

Still, having just watched the four-hour spectacle that was Beijing's opening ceremony - fireworks! flying torchbearers! - we worry that future host cities will feel pressure to keep up. Will Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. Rod Blagojevich want to break the bank to snag the Games from fellow 2016 finalists Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo?

The bar keeps getting raised. China, in all its totalitarian consensus and zeal, spent an estimated $40 billion on its Games, $300 million on Friday night's kickoff ceremony alone. Was it cool? Jaw-dropping is more like it. Hundreds of drummers and martial artists performed in perfect unison. A 16-ton glowing globe rose from the floor. An incredible pyrotechnics display lit up the Chinese capital. A massive, animated scrim ringed the circumference of China's National Stadium - aka the "Bird's Nest," itself an architectural marvel. The nearby aquatics facility, the luminescent Water Cube, is no slouch, either.

OK, so it was impressive - what's in store for the closing ceremonies, a UFO landing? - but these Games have trounced the previous spending record set by 2004 host Athens, which shelled out about $12 billion. By comparison, the 1996 Atlanta Games cost under $2 billion.

Already Chicago is talking $27 billion in highway and transit projects. Already the city and state have pledged $650 million in tax dollars to cover cost overruns. In a state that can't even pass a capital budget to meet existing infrastructure needs, where will these funds come from? What's the projected return on that investment?

We understand the emotional compulsion to hop on Chicago's bandwagon. It's easy to get caught up in the hoopla of "hosting the Games in the heartland of the country," which Peoria's resolution of support addresses.

Our sense of nationalism spikes, too, when cheering U.S. swimmers on to a come-from-behind gold against the trash-talking French. We appreciate the urge to show off.

As far as financial support, however, Illinoisans need a better estimate of how much gold and silver Chicago expects taxpayers to spend. The Olympics are about the spirit of competition, but do Illinoisans really want to compete with $300 million for an opening ceremony, with so many other real and ongoing needs unmet?

Some fiscal realism is in order, before we get sucked into that Olympic vortex.

Peoria Journal Star