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By Sue Owen November 28, 2011

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

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.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Austin American-Statesman news story by John Maher, "Is Formula One coming to Austin?," May 25, 2010

Statement from Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, Nov. 15, 2011

Texas Legislature, Senate Bill 1, May 26, 2009

Vernon’s Civil Statutes, Chapter 10 - Economic Development, Article 5910.14

Letter from Texas Comptroller Susan Combs to Formula One leader Bernie Ecclestone, May 10, 2010

Austin American-Statesman news story by John Maher, "Circuit of Americas official says revised contract ‘unrealistic and unfeasible,’ " Nov. 24, 2011

Post on Austin American-Statesman Formula Austin blog by Dave Doolittle, "Inaugural Austin F1 race date confirmed as Nov. 18, 2012," Aug. 31, 2011

Austin American-Statesman news story by John Maher, "New Jersey will host second F1 event in U.S.," Oct. 25, 2011

Austin American-Statesman news story by John Maher and Shonda Novak, "Slowdown raises questions about future of F1," Sept. 29, 2011

Post on Austin American-Statesman Formula Austin blog by Laylan Copelin, "Comptroller joins list of F1 skeptics," Nov. 17, 2011

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

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