Rumors that Utah House Rep. Scott Daniels is working with those who have sued the state over the Legacy Highway are untrue and unfounded, Daniels and anti-Legacy attorneys say.
Daniels, D-Salt Lake, has formally asked the Legislative Audit Committee to have the legislative auditor general audit the Legacy project, now halted by a federal court order brought by a group that opposes the west Davis County stretch of the road.
Daniels has also introduced HJR8, a constitutional amendment that, if passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, would allow the state Transportation Fund to be used to build public mass-transit projects as well as roads.
Daniels' 29-year-old son, Brigham, is a law student at Stanford University and last summer clerked at the Salt Lake law firm Parson, Behle & Latimer, which represents Utahns for Better Transportation, the group whose lawsuit over Legacy has delayed the project.
Republicans in the House and Senate are angry over the lawsuit and the court injunction, which they say is costing the state $92,000 a day in construction delays.
A GOP senator has introduced a bill aimed at trying to make those bringing the suit, which include Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson and the Sierra Club, pay the costs of litigation and construction delays.
Opponents of the Legacy Highway say a commuter rail line between Ogden and Salt Lake City should be built before another north-south major road, like Legacy, is constructed. Rep. Daniels' amendment would allow state funds to go for that mass transit construction. UBT opposes the highway on several grounds, as well, mainly that it could harm more than 100 acres of Great Salt Lake wetlands.
Several GOP legislators, who asked that their names not be used, complained this week that Brigham Daniels worked on the lawsuit and could have given insider information to his father, leading to the audit request and constitutional amendment.
Rep. Daniels denies any collusion.
"I did talk to Brigham about the Legacy Highway often. But we never discussed the constitutional amendment." And questions that Rep. Daniels has posed to the audit committee to be answered concerning Legacy problems did not come from the anti-Legacy attorneys' questions put forward as part of that lawsuit, Rep. Daniels said.
He said he he wrote Utah Department of Transportation officials a letter a year ago asking basically the same questions he wants the audit to answer.
"UDOT didn't answer me for six months, and when they did it was a one sentence paragraph saying go read the 200 pages of the lawsuit filed in court, the answers are in there. I never read the lawsuit. That's why I asked UDOT so I wouldn't have to plow through all that discovery," said Rep. Daniels.
He then wrote GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt — a strong supporter of Legacy — to answer the same questions. "He has never answered me at all. So I asked for the legislative audit."
State attorneys recently asked the anti-Legacy group to enter secret negotiations and work out a settlement. And according to one Republican, one of the negotiation points asked by Legacy opponents is to change the state constitution to allow state road funds to go to mass transit.
"I have no idea what those settlement negotiations are," said Rep. Daniels. "If that is one of the settlement points, and I doubt it would be, it is just a major coincidence." The state attorneys couldn't make a promise to change the constitution because they can't bind the Legislature and the voters, both who would have to approve an amendment, Rep. Daniels said.
Rep. Daniels, a former 3rd District judge who is now president of the Utah State Bar, said he was going to introduce the amendment last session but didn't after being told that the Senate didn't like to pass constitutional amendments in non-election years. The settlement talks didn't start until last fall, he noted.
"Whatever Scott (Daniels) is doing is completely independent of negotiations," said Craig Galli, lead attorney for the law firm representing Utahns for Better Transportation. Those negotiations are secret, and he wouldn't comment on them.
"(Brigham Daniels) did some work on the case but (that work) ended in August" when he went back to school, Galli said.
"There is no connection," Galli added. "The amendment came as a surprise to me."
But Galli said he personally supports Daniels legislation. "This conspiratorial aspect (of the rumors) is just one more way to try to undercut efforts being done through legislation," Galli said.
Rep. Daniels said there is a lot of paranoia and anger by Republicans over the hold-up of the Legacy construction. "Perhaps (the rumors) come because of that," Rep. Daniels said.