The backers of Boston’s Olympics bid promise that the state’s coffers will not be tapped for the billions of dollars needed to run the 2024 Summer Games. Now, the state’s top government leaders say they will consider hiring an outside consultant to ensure the Boston 2024 Partnership lives up to that pledge.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and Governor Charlie Baker want to ensure that bringing the Games here does not drain money from the state budget.
“What I don’t want to see is to come up three months before the start of the Olympics and have someone say, ‘By the way, the state has to kick in $1 billion for this to work,’” DeLeo told business leaders at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday.
In a separate interview later Tuesday, Rosenberg said he hopes to have documents crafted within the next few weeks to set the stage for bringing on a consultant. It has not yet been decided how to pay for the service, should one be hired.
The goal, Rosenberg said, would be to ensure that the state does not end up on the hook for an operating subsidy for the Games or any debt associated with the event. He said he also does not want the state to pay for transportation projects that will not otherwise happen if the International Olympic Committee does not pick Boston.
“This is a very complex operation,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a one-time event on the scale of many billions of dollars.”
Rosenberg said he wants to see a consultant hired soon because there is not much time between now and a September deadline in the process for submitting Boston’s bid to the International Olympic Committee.
Boston 2024 has proposed a $4.7 billion operating budget, one that would be funded by Games-related revenue such as sponsorships, TV broadcast rights, and ticket sales. Another $3.4 billion would be spent on nonoperating costs, primarily the Athletes’ Village. This portion of the budget, Boston 2024 says, would be funded through public-private partnerships. Those figures do not include public transit and security costs that have yet to be tallied.
The consultant news broke on the day before Baker was set to release his state budget for the next fiscal year. The Baker administration did not directly address whether the governor is on board with the idea of hiring an independent consultant. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton issued a statement saying the governor believes transparency is vital to the Olympic bid process.
In a separate statement, Boston 2024 chief executive Richard Davey reiterated his group’s openness to working with the Legislature and the Baker administration to craft a bid that, as he put it, “serves the people of Massachusetts and the athletes of the world.”
The consultant’s hiring would be separate from an Olympics-related bill filed last month by two Boston legislators that proposed analyzing the potential financial impact on the city. But the goals would be similar.
That bill, supported by more than half of the House members, would establish a commission to analyze the finances of the Games, while requiring the Olympics bid committee to share any information requested by the commission or face the withdrawal of public funds needed for the bid.
It is not unusual to seek independent reviews and research when it comes to the Olympic Games.
In 2009, the Chicago-based Civic Federation hired L.E.K. Consulting to study the financial aspects of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. (The International Olympic Committee ended up picking Rio de Janeiro.) And a spokeswoman for the Boston Foundation confirmed her group has commissioned a study to analyze the short-term economic impact of Boston’s 2024 bid.
Victor Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, said it makes sense to hire a consultant if that adviser is truly independent. He said he sees the potential for the state to get stuck with bills for security — Boston 2024 organizers hope the federal government will pay for that — as well as some infrastructure.
“I would be in favor of anyone taking an objective look at the Boston Olympics who is not directly connected to the tourism or construction industry,” said Matheson, who has been skeptical of the benefits of hosting the Olympics. “Having someone taking a close look at it to ensure that the rosy projections being made are going to occur is really important.”
State Representative Michael Moran, a Boston Democrat, who sat at DeLeo’s table at Tuesday’s chamber event, said he was happy to hear his boss talk about initiating an independent review.
Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.