The Utah Legislature is scrapping the proposed name change for the Utah Transit Authority, saying the controversy is a distraction from the positive aspects of the bill.
During the 2018 session, lawmakers passed sweeping transportation changes which included an overhaul of the Utah Transit Authority, including a name change to Transit District of Utah.
Lawmakers are scrapping the UTA name change because they say it's being used to distract from other more serious problems that need to be addressed with the UTA overhaul. Instead, they've instructed the current UTA leadership to abandon the name change. It will likely be repealed during the 2019 session.
"A very small part of this bill included a name change for the Utah Transit Authority," said Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville. "This may be what you think is the sum total of what is in the bill because it's been taken out of context and coupled with inaccurate information."
That inaccurate information includes a reported $50 million price tag to rename and rebrand the UTA, a cost that legislative fiscal analysts could not justify. Additionally, no money was appropriated by lawmakers for the name change and rebranding.
Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, says he believes the controversy surrounding the name change was being used to distract from the UTA firing and giving a large severance package to CEO Jerry Benson, an action he says is indicative of the problems plaguing the agency.
"It's evidence of the type of behavior that caused such widespread public concern," said Schultz. "I think it's clear this was put out there by the UTA as a way to create controversy around the name change and to mislead the public. That goes right to the heart of the issues we're trying to fix."
Schultz has previously said he would try to block the severance package for Benson.
The severance package for Benson gives him nine months of salary and benefits. The Utah Attorney General's Office has sent a letter to the UTA board suggesting that the actions taken to fire Benson and give him severance may have violated the state's open meetings laws.
Gov. Gary Herbert supports the effort to pause, and possibly abandon, the name change, even going so far as to hold a special session to allow lawmakers to remove the rebranding from SB136. In an email statement, Herbert said, "I have always been opposed to a costly rebranding effort. It's a bad idea because it has nothing to do with what people actually care about, which is the efficient operation of UTA."