A Democratic lawmaker is calling for a legislative audit into the $13 million payout by the Utah Department of Transportation to prevent a lawsuit by the second-place finisher for the Interstate 15 rebuild project in Utah County.
But GOP leaders say that request is probably dead on arrival, and call it politically motivated. Still, they say legislation to require notification of the Legislature before such big payments in the future is likely.
Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, formally asked the Legislative Auditor's office to look into the $13 million payment to the consortium of Flatiron/Skanska/Zachry (FSZ), which had contended that "adjustments" made by UDOT cost it the $1.1 billion contract for the freeway project.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon has questioned whether FSZ lost that contract to Provo River Constructors because that company made $87,500 in political contributions to Gov. Gary Herbert.
UDOT Executive Director John Njord has said he decided to make the $13 million payment to FSZ to avoid a lawsuit that he says the state could have won, but would have brought delays and would have cost much more than the settlement did. He said he did it without political pressure and has apologized for not notifying the governor and Legislature beforehand about his action.
Hansen said he is requesting an audit "as part of my responsibility to look out for the best interests of citizens and their tax dollars." He said, "When you have someone who writes out a check for $13 million without oversight by the Legislature or governor, we need to call for accountability."
However, both Senate President Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, say they doubt an audit will come anytime soon. Both sit on the four-person committee that determines which audits to approve.
"I frankly think the matter has been adequately explained by UDOT," Waddoups said. "The right decision was made. The only thing was that they didn't disclose it to the governor and Legislature, which we did not require them to do. That may be a matter for legislation, rather than being addressed by an audit. Our legislative auditors are already very busy with important projects without taking that on."
Clark said the legislative auditors are "completely booked on some Medicaid" audits probably until the beginning of the Legislature's session next year. "So I would say that we're not going to get to the [requested UDOT] audit very quickly," if at all, Clark said.
"I do think there is a great deal of concern. But nothing shows there was any violation of statute, but there was a clear understanding there should be some communication," Clark said.
State law requires the Legislature and governor be notified of any settlement of $500,000 or more, but UDOT contract matters are specifically exempted.
Waddoups said that Hansen's call for a legislative audit looks "like it is purely politically motivated."
In response, Hansen said, "This is what happens when we don't have a two-party system. Things are not as transparent as they should have been. Senator Waddoups himself should have asked for that audit."
1-15 project scrutiny
R The Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee has been doing its own look into the payout, and it had UDOT Executive Director John Njord testify about it last week, where he apologized for not notifying elected officials. Clark said he expects that committee to continue to look into the payment, and propose legislation to require better notification.