Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Full Flop
Combs
On advancing state money for a Formula One race

Susan Combs on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 in a statement

Susan Combs U-turns on advancing state money for Formula One race

Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Years before the Formula One racetrack agreement became public knowledge in Central Texas, state Comptroller Susan Combs was a strong supporter. Yet on Nov. 15, 2011, she hit the brakes: Texas would not disburse $25 million in advance of the first race, she announced.

We put her statement through PolitiFact’s Flip-O-Meter. Did Combs do a high-speed turn?

Combs’ statement says she has supported bringing a Formula One race to Texas "since 2008." And when the deal became public in May 2010, Gov. Rick Perry praised her efforts. In the 2010-11 budget, approved in 2009, lawmakers sent $25 million to Combs to be placed in the Major Events Trust Fund, whence she could distribute the money under the terms of a 2003 statute.

Combs’ agreement to pay in advance was spelled out in a May 10, 2010, letter:

"With the understanding that the first Formula 1 United States Grand Prix race will be held in Texas in 2012, full funding on the entire sanction for 2012 will be paid to Formula OneWorld Championship Limited (‘FOWC’) no later than July 31st, 2011."

The sanction, reported by the Statesman to be $25 million under the original contract, is the first of ten $25 million annual payments Texas committed to in writing. Payment was delayed when Austin’s race date was put back from June 17, 2012, to Nov. 18, 2012.

But Combs’ Nov. 15 statement was the first official notice that Texas would not pay until after the race was held. It unequivocally says, "The state of Texas will not be paying any funds in advance of the event."

Does her announcement constitute a flip flop?

Combs says no. Specifically, Combs spokeswoman Brooke Botello told us, "It is not a change of position; rather, it’s adhering to the statute."

"The ability to advance funds, according to the statute, is discretionary," Botello emailed us Nov. 22. "Considering the events of late, we used that discretion and decided – due to the events outlined in the attached – it would not be prudent to advance the funds."

In the attachment Botello mentions, which is Combs’ Nov. 15 statement, the comptroller lists the recently announced Formula One race in New Jersey, set for 2013; slowed construction at the Central Texas site; and disagreements between Formula One and race promoters that "prompted speculation about whether the Austin race will even occur."

Our ruling: Combs may have been justified in her recent statement that no state money would go to the race in advance. Still, it’s a reversal of her earlier promise. This is a Full Flop.