Using a line-item veto, Gov. Gary Herbert rejected Wednesday spending $800,000 of tax money for what was essentially a gift by legislators to Bryson Garbett, a prominent homebuilder and former legislator, who sought it with the help of House Speaker-turned-lobbyist Greg Curtis.
As earlier reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, the $800,000 was for a sound wall — which the Utah Department of Transportation had earlier rejected — at a vacant field where Garbett plans to build 77 homes.
Buried on page 32 of SB3 — the 66-page, last-chance-for-money bill that was unveiled and passed on the last day of the Legislature — was the following directive:
“The Legislature intends that the Department of Transportation use $800,000 from the Transportation Fund to construct a sound barrier along Mountain View Corridor at 8157 South Mapleleaf Way, West Jordan.”
Actually, the wording contained an error. The property borders Bangerter Highway, not the Mountain View Corridor — a possible sign of haste in passing the directive. Herbert used that mistake to justify his line-item veto.
In a written message to the Legislature, Herbert said he wiped out the directive because “the intent language is for a sound barrier at an address that does not exist along Mountain View Corridor.” The Legislature could override the line-item veto with a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate.
SB3 was the final bill signed by Herbert as deadlines arrived for his action on legislation passed this year. The governor also used his power for line-item vetoes to erase funding in SB3 for two bills that had failed to pass the Legislature. He signed 539 pieces of legislation from this year’s legislative session, vetoed one bill and allowed three to become law without his signature.
Property records show the address listed for the sound wall is for 26 acres of what has been farmland, now owned by Aurora Heights LC. State business records show that company’s manager and agent is Garbett — president of Garbett Homes — who served as a Republican legislator from 1982 to 1986.
Garbett said in an earlier interview that he plans to build 77 homes on the parcel. “But it’s noisy,” he said. “I don’t think you would want to live there without a sound wall.”
He noted that adjacent homes that were built previously do have sound walls.
Garbett said he approached the Utah Department of Transportation officials to seek a sound barrier. “But they said no. We thought they were treating us and that property unfairly. Everyone else [nearby] has a sound wall. Why would they not put one there? We didn't get anywhere with them.”
A UDOT spokesman earlier said the agency uses formulas to determine where to build sound barriers as new highways are constructed. Vacant fields do not qualify. He said UDOT can reconsider once an area is developed, but that usually occurs after such development is completed.
Spurned by UDOT, Garbett said he hired Curtis as a lobbyist to push his case with lawmakers.
Normally, with some exceptions, the Legislature does not order specific transportation projects. Instead, it usually has the Utah Transportation Commission review and prioritize potential projects statewide using objective criteria to help take politics out of the process. The wording in SB3 side-stepped that, and in essence ordered that Garbett be a winner.
But Curtis said in a recent interview that he had seen sound barriers funded in appropriations bills, so he decided to give it a try — arguing that neighboring properties have sound barriers, so Garbett’s land should too.
Curtis said that he went about that by “just talking with members of the Legislature. I'm not comfortable in using names” of those who helped him, nor exactly who made the proposal for him to include the language.
“I mean the bill obviously is run by the appropriations chairs, and other members of leadership are keenly aware of what goes in and doesn’t go in the bill,” Curtis said. Leaders include Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, who both also are developers.
The Garbett family has a long and diverse political history. In addition to Bryson Garbett’s tenure as a Republican state legislator, his wife, Jan, ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for lieutenant governor in 2016. Jan Garbett also ran as a United Utah Party candidate for Congress last year. Garbett’s son, David, is running for mayor of Salt Lake City this year in a nonpartisan race dominated by Democrats.