Combs on the Formula 1 crisis
Thu November 17, 2011 8:57 am

Combs' statement is a welcome but long-overdue acknowledgement that all is not well with the race that may never take place. It appears on the Comptroller's web site.

It’s no secret that I’ve supported Texas hosting a Formula 1 race since 2008. A well-organized event of this magnitude can be a tremendous benefit to Texas if done right. Investors, businesses and event organizers want to come to Texas because we’ve developed an economic climate that is attractive, our state is a great location for events, and we’ve got space and potential to grow.

A tool for recruiting large events to the state is the Major Events Trust Fund (METF), which was created by the Texas Legislature in 2003. In the past two years, eligible METF recipients have included the NFL Super Bowl XLV, the NBA All-Star Game and the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Four tournaments. The support provided by the METF comes from sales, hotel, beverage and other tax revenue generated by out-of-state visitors who attend the event.

When the United States Grand Prix was formally announced, it was the only Formula 1 race scheduled in the U.S. During the past 18 months, organizers have taken many steps to bring high-profile motor racing to Central Texas, including the development of the Circuit of the Americas, and the announcement of the global MotoGP and V8 Supercar race series starting in 2013.

The recent announcement of an annual Formula 1 race in New Jersey is a concern, as additional races have the potential to reduce the number of attendees to a Texas race, thereby decreasing the economic impact. Additionally, the reports of a slowdown in construction at the Circuit of the Americas, and recently publicized disagreements between the race rights-holder and the circuit developers have prompted speculation about whether the Austin race will even occur. The ongoing controversies are a concern and we will continue to monitor them.

Let me state clearly: We have not paid out any money for the Formula 1 event. The only dollars that can be spent on the United States Grand Prix are tax revenues attributable to the successful running of a race. The state of Texas will not be paying any funds in advance of the event. Further, as is the case with all METF events, each application will be reviewed and analyzed for its likely economic impact and only after the race occurs would any funds be disbursed.

If an METF application is submitted, it will be thoroughly vetted and economic impact data scrutinized based on the actual circumstances for that event. Ultimately, I am responsible for protecting the interests of Texas taxpayers, first and foremost. I will not allow taxpayer dollars to be placed at risk. My position on that has not changed.

I have no quarrel with anything Combs says here. I just don't think it's appropriate for the chief fiscal officer of the state to advocate investing in a race during the worst budget crisis in a quarter of a century. A lot of things can go wrong when you are dealing with European hustlers, and some of them did. Budget writers could have raised the red flag, but they didn't.

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