Republicans say they are working to rescue $1 million for a Provo highway project lost through what they say was "irresponsibility" by Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah.
But Orton says Republicans are guilty of "politics at their worst" by either lying about what happened or creating an elaborate scheme to make him look bad and them look good.It all stems from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., stripping $1 million from the National Highway bill for a U.S. 89/189 connector project in Provo.
Utah Republicans say Shuster did that to take revenge for what they say was a false charge by Orton that Shuster had threatened Provo Mayor George Stewart to target such money if Orton pushed an amendment that Shuster disliked.
Utah State Republican Party Chairman Stan Parrish issued a press release this week saying, "Mayor Stewart and Shuster deny such a (threatening) conversation ever took place.
"Shuster did an internal review with his office staff and confirmed no phone call was ever made to Mayor Stewart. Orton got caught with bad information, or with a lie, and it could cost Utah $1 million," Parrish said.
But Orton said that is not what happened. He said he was pushing an amendment to give presidents a line-item veto over contract authority such as highway projects, and "Shuster didn't like anyone threatening the contract authority he controls."
Orton said Provo's Washington lobbyist called him and told him Shuster had threatened such money if Orton continued to push that amendment. Orton said he then called Stewart - who said he had heard the same information. But Orton said he was still going to pursue the amendment.
During debate on it, Orton charged in public that Shuster's staff had threatened "a mayor" in his district. As Orton notes, Shuster soon took the floor to deny that his office had ever called the "mayor of Provo, Utah."
"But I had never said what city was involved, so how did he know?" Orton said. "Either Shuster's office had called the mayor of Provo to begin with, or the mayor of Provo had called them."
When Shuster later pulled funding for the highway to serve Provo's growing East Bay area, Provo officials traveled to Washington to seek help from other Utah Republicans to restore the funding.
Parrish's press release said Republicans in Utah's congressional delegation are working to rescue the money but asked why Orton should have jeopardized it all.
Parrish said, "Did Orton lie? Did Orton gamble a million-dollar Provo project away as a bargaining chip so he could push his flawed proposal? Voters in the 3rd Congressional District should answer at the voting booth."
Orton said he did not lie and relied on information provided by Provo officials. He says it appears to him that Republicans cooked up a scheme where Shuster could pull $1 million just to make him look bad and Republicans look good - including Stewart, who is considered a potential opponent for Orton.
"That is politics as usual, and that is what people in Utah are fed up with. It is deplorable. It is outrageous. And having the mayor and the delegation participating in that ploy is deplorable," he said.
Parrish said, "Shuster's reaction to Orton's tactics was natural and expected. . . . This was not an act of politics. Shuster acted to punish someone for either incompetence in relating the facts or a clear lie.
"Now a Utah mayor and a Republican delegation are fighting to restore the funding. Is this the best Orton can offer his constituents?" Parrish said.
Orton said, "I'm sure the voters can see through what is going on."