In the spring of 2010, Texans awoke to the news that Governor Rick Perry and Comptroller Susan Combs, both conservative Republicans, had agreed to spend a quarter billion dollars to fund a private race track in Texas for Formula One racing. Rick Perry’s Texas is now in year four of a ten year agreement to use public treasuries to fund private investment, the Circuit of the Americas race track, in Austin, Texas. It’s been a mess here in Texas. With the governor on the brink of a second presidential run, this author seeks the interest and attention of Red State to move this story to a wider conservative audience, if indeed the nation generally.
Conservatives and liberals alike were appalled. In January of 2011, the executive committee of the Travis County Republican Party, composed of its precinct chairs, voted a resolution opposing the track with strong censure on the topic of using public funds for private investment. It passed unanimously. The Governor and Comptroller went ahead with their plans as if none of those precinct chairs even existed.
Governor Perry and Comptroller Combs used an economic development program meant for one time unique events, originally written in the late 1990’s, to recruit the Olympics to Texas. Called the Major Events Trust Fund (METF), it had never been used for multiple year events before. The size of the award was 26 times the largest previous award. Moreover, the Governor and Comptroller were not even authorized to make METF awards. The Major Events statute states clearly an event fund may only be established at the request of a city or county, yet Austin and Travis County were told nothing about what was coming, kept utterly in the dark during negotiations which started as far back in 2008. Throughout his tenure, Governor Perry has been hounded by accusations he misused his economic development programs, including notice of problems in two State Audits.
The Governor and Comptroller jumped over these hurdles by allowing Austin to apply to the fund late, essentially to apply retroactively. Rather than thumb their nose at the local hospitality economy, local leaders went along. But notably, they withheld the city’s local match. There would be no public funds from Austin taxpayers in the deal, only state funds. Imagine that, old liberal Austin siding with Tea Party sentiments more strongly than Governor Perry, who appears to have been the darling of the Tea Party while on the national stage these recent years.
The Formula One race track funding is an oops which makes the Governor’s debate folly look trivial. His actions to fund the track were far worse in that they were not just a temporary slip up but were utterly deliberate having been exercised over the course of some 30 months, the period the public and local leaders were kept in the dark about what was coming.
The final kicker in all of this is that the guarantee of $25MM per year to Formula One was eventually bumped to closer to $30 million per year, one presumes to make up for the funding Austin withheld. Cumulative funding after three years was supposed to be $75 million. It now hovers on the brink of $100 million. The preponderance of these payments have gone to the English racing mogul Bernie Ecclestone, the impresario of Formula One. A principle investor in the track is Red McCombs, a Texas billionaire.
This diary entry was made, is made, by a former Travis County Republican Party precinct chair.
Thank you Red State for your notice.