USOC Leaders in Boston to Check on Bid Process

Among those in the meeting will be USOC chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun, and Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca and CEO Rich Davey

U.S. Olympic Committee leaders were in Boston on Thursday to meet with 2024 Summer Olympics planners to see what progress they're making in turning public opinion in their favor.

Recent polls suggest only about 42 percent of Massachusetts voters support hosting the games, and USOC Chairman Larry Probst has said he wants to see support rise above 50 percent "relatively soon."

The USOC must officially declare a candidate by Sept. 15. The International Olympic Committee will pick a winner in 2017. Among the international cities in the running are Paris; Rome; Hamburg, Germany; and Budapest, Hungary.

Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun were expected to meet privately Thursday with Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca and CEO Rich Davey. They also are scheduled to meet with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at City Hall and speak with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker by phone as he's traveling in the state. Officials weren't saying when any of the conversations would take place.

In an email to The Associated Press, Pagliuca called the Thursday gathering a "regularly scheduled monthly meeting to review next steps" and also to discuss what USOC leaders learned during a trip to the Pan Am Games in Toronto last week.

But Probst promised after a June 30 meeting in California, in which Boston organizers pitched their latest version of their plans, dubbed Bid 2.0, that they would be "circling back" on efforts to gain local support.

The governor hasn't committed support for Boston's revised bid, saying he wants to hear first from a consultant hired by the state to review the bid. On his regular monthly appearance on WGBH-FM Thursday, Baker said he expected their findings around mid-August.

"We've all agreed we aren't going to sign a guarantee that the commonwealth is on the hook for any cost overruns associated with this," he said, referring to himself and Democratic legislative leaders. Baker wasn't asked about his expected phone conversation with the USOC.

Meanwhile, opponents were tweeting their objections to the Olympics bid under the hashtag #USOCGoHome.

Also, a group of Massachusetts residents calling themselves the Olympics Ballot Coalition filed a petition Thursday to get a referendum on the Olympics placed on the 2016 ballot.

The binding referendum would effectively ban state taxpayer spending on the estimated $4.6 billion games while making exceptions for transportation projects that have a lasting benefit for the state.

State Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, a Taunton Republican and one of the leaders of the effort, said the referendum represents the first concrete steps taken to assure taxpayers are protected if the Olympics go over budget.

"We cannot count on gimmicks and lip service" from lawmakers and Boston 2024, she said.

No Boston Olympics, the citizens group opposed to the Olympics bid, said it supports the coalition proposal, despite concerns it does not prevent Boston leaders from agreeing to put city taxpayers on the hook if the games go over budget.

The proposal was written as well as could be, said Chris Dempsey, the group's co-chairman. "But even that language (on overages) would not, in our view, truly protect taxpayers from risk. We worry that it's really insufficient."

Dempsey said his group is not contemplating proposing its own ballot referendum.

The governor has said he supports the ballot initiative process but has not commented on the referendum proposing to ban state taxpayer spending.

Boston 2024 has said it's also interested in proposing a 2016 referendum, promising not to go forward with a final bid unless a majority of Massachusetts and Boston voters approved. David Wedge, a spokesman for the group, said Thursday it is "committed to ensuring that a clear, transparent ballot question" is put before voters. He didn't elaborate on how the question would be worded.

The deadline to file referendum requests with the state is Aug. 5. Once the state attorney general's office determines the referendum passes legal muster, the group will need to gather some 64,000 signatures from registered voters.

The Boston City Council is also weighing placing four, nonbinding questions related to the games on the citywide ballot this November.

The drive for an Olympics referendum comes after state lawmakers earlier this month approved a $38.1 billion budget that included language preventing state spending on the Olympics without legislative approval.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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