Attorney general doesn’t resolve questions about F1’s eligibility for state funds

In an opinion issued Friday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott did not resolve questions about whether Formula One races planned near Austin beginning in November should receive state money.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson requested the opinion in March, saying that no state money should go to the race because Circuit of the Americas, a racetrack under construction in southeastern Travis County, was selected to host races by Formula One Management without an application from a local entity.

The issue centers around the Major Events Trust Fund, a state economic development fund administered by Comptroller Susan Combs' office that has been used to attract events such as Super Bowls and NCAA basketball Final Four tournaments. But its potential use for Formula One has been controversial.

It also has political overtones, as Patterson and Combs, both Republicans, have indicated they plan to run for lieutenant governor in 2014. Combs has said her office would not release funds until after a race, scheduled for Nov. 16-18.

Abbott's opinion says that, under trust fund statutes, an event is eligible for funds only if a local entity submits an application to a site selection organization, such as the NFL or Formula One Management.

However, "whether such an application was actually submitted in this case is a matter of factual dispute that cannot be resolved through the opinion process," Abbott's opinion said.

In his request, Patterson said that despite open-records requests to the city, county and Combs' office, he has not seen a copy of an application, and therefore none exists.

In a response, Combs points to a letter sent to her office from Formula One Management CEO Bernie Ecclestone confirming that the Austin area was selected "based on an application."

An attorney general's opinion is not as binding as a court ruling but still carries substantial weight as the state's official interpretation of the law.

"We are pleased with today's attorney general opinion," R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for Combs' office, said in an email. "All the rules laid out in statute are properly followed when analyzing applications made for Major Events Trust Funds."

Patterson said he anticipates an injunction will be filed to stop Combs from dispersing the funds.

"I think the Legislature needs to look at the administration of the Major Events Trust Fund, particularly in the case of Formula One," Patterson said. "You can make a case that (the statute) needs fixing, but it's clear you need an application."

A group affiliated with the circuit and approved by the city to act on its behalf applied to Combs' office in July for a trust fund containing $30.6 million, based on estimates that the race would generate a little more than $293 million in direct economic impact for the area. Combs' office said it established that fund in a letter to Austin City Manager Marc Ott dated Sunday.

"We have worked with the local organizing committee in following the process to secure and host this international event," circuit President Steve Sexton said Friday.

The committee had originally applied to tap the fund in June last year but withdrew the application a month later when the date of the Austin race was changed from this June to November.

Once an event is over, the trust fund applies revenue from "extra" tax collections attributable to the event to pay costs incurred from hosting it. The Statesman

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