On October 19, the Utah Republican Party sent out an email to supporters urging them to hold Doug Owens accountable for a “complete disregard for your tax dollars” and to vote for Mia Love. The basis for this ask was based on a claim that “Doug Owens cost each Utah family $3,000, because of his lawsuit to block Legacy Highway.” We were asked to evaluate the truth of that claim.
On July 7, 2016, the Utah Republican Party sent out a similar email blasting Doug Owens for the part he played in this lawsuit. In that email, the Utah GOP claimed that “Doug’s lawsuit delayed construction of Legacy Highway for years, costing taxpayers over $250 million. That’s more than $500 per family.”
Doug Owens was in fact involved with a lawsuit to block construction of the Legacy Parkway as an attorney representing Utahns for Better Transportation. This lawsuit, arguing that the highway project should be replaced with a train, delayed the project for five years until reaching a settlement that allowed the highway to be completed with stipulations on speed, environmental protection, and a future rail project. During this time, the cost of completing the Legacy Parkway project did increase by about $250 million, starting with an initial budget of $451 million and ending at $685 million.
If you take the increased budget, and divide it by $500 per family, that leaves about 500,000 families. Although exact census data on the number of family households in Utah is not available for this time, 500,000 family households is a reasonable estimate based on the percentages available from both the 2000 and 2010 census data (if growth and ratios stayed consistent, there would have been about 481,587 family households in Utah during 2005). Therefore, the truth lies with the first email sent out by the Utah GOP, and the most recent email sent on October 19 exaggerates the amount of money the lawsuit and settlement cost the average Utah family.
Up for debate is the question of whether Doug Owens himself caused these extra costs. As an attorney, he was responsible for the zealous representation of his client, and any blame would be upon the client for bringing the suit. On the other hand, Owens did voluntarily choose to enter into this representation. Additionally, at the beginning of the legal process, a panel of judges found that much of the financial harm that the state would face was “self-inflicted” because the state chose to proceed with the Legacy Parkway knowing that there were several court cases challenging the approval of the project. However, supporters of the Parkway point out that the project had been approved by all federal agencies and believed that it would be upheld under judicial review. Because these argument stand mostly upon opinion over who shoulders the blame for the years of litigation, we will not make a determination on this part of the claim.
The Utah Republican Party claimed that Doug Owens cost each Utah family $3,000 owing to his role in the lawsuits seeking to block the Legacy Parkway project. Owens was an attorney in the lawsuit and can thus arguably be attributed to the cost overruns resulting from the litigation, although the State was responsible for self-inflicting most of the financial loss. However, the price per family was closer to $500 per Utah family, not an exaggerated $3,000 per family. Therefore, we find this claim to be false.