Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Monday, November 14, 2011

F1: Gentleman, Stop Your Engines

Don't Say We Didn't Tell Ya So

We were duped. At least many racing fans who never questioned the public subsidies and the decision-makers were, sans the two dissenting members.

It wouldn't be the first time Richard Suttle strutted into City Hall on behalf of out of town developers and promised the moon, the sun and the stars and city leaders became all googly-eyed, only to find out not a sunspot, a moonbeam nor a starlight were actually on the table.

But in this case, where the public actually got wind before Council voted on the "risk free" deal, we had a couple of shots to convince them that supporting F1's lust for public monies was not the best thing since sliced bread. Many, many people brought many, many well-researched facts before Council showing there was plenty of reason to slow the train down.

Council, except for two (Cmbrs. Morrison and Tovo), chose not to listen to the public. $250 million of Texas public funds are on the table, spread out over 10 years (plus $4 million in a local contribution, which Circuit of the Americas, "COTA," says they'll pay--we'll see). With $15 billion in budget cuts this past legislative session, one would think the City of Austin wouldn't so foolishly jump into an arrangement putting all Texans in harm's way.

Besides some community members dismantling many of F1's "facts" and figures, it should have been evident something was going to blow up in our face based solely on who we were dealing with: Bernie Ecclestone, for one, who loves him some "efficient" Hitler --and is fond of bribing folks to avoid paying taxes. Local attorney and former Judge, Bill Aleshire, said: “Those of us trying to convince our state comptroller not to pay the $25 million F1 Texas tax kickback recognize the sad irony that Mr. Ecclestone testified that he bribed a German bank official with $23 million in order to avoid a tax audit.” Painful irony.

Hiring Richard Suttle as their local go-to man should have been Clue #2 this was a shady deal, and that all their "hurry hurry hurry! offer ends soon!" b.s. was just that: b.s. to get their hands on public monies before anyone was the wiser.

Jabs from Jersey

As we are finding out, a New Jersey race in 2013 had long been secretly in the works and that it was being negotiated for June that year. We were never going to have a June race in 2012 or any year thereafter (yet that was the reason Council had to quickly approve contracts that weren't yet written), and it's now questionable we are going to have a 2012 race at all, as noted by Autoweek: "There might not be an F1 race in Texas in 2012, and there might not be a track for the series to race on."

With the internal strife in COTA and Hellmund's bitter departure, delays in construction, rumors of construction workers going unpaid, the track may not just be delayed - it may not be built. If I were an investor, I'd be pulling out right now. (If it goes unfinished, should we rename it the "Intel Memorial Racetrack"? Maybe we can turn it into a dirt bike park.)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is laughing at us right now...laughing all the way to the bank...for our promising millions in public funds to these people. He knew he didn't need to offer any giveaways to get his race, and pointed that out in his F1 announcement as a not-so-subtle jab at Texas. So unlike the deal we agreed to, NJ isn't using any public money to pay F1 fees and they are getting reimbursed for public expenses and they are keeping any and all sales tax proceeds.

If only we had skilled policy makers like that around these parts.

Meanwhile, we were negotiating investing much-needed state dollars under the false premise that we'd have the exclusive rights to the only F1 race in the US, such that we'd be rolling in tourist dollars. Ooops!

Don't Worry!

Steve Sexton said their "funding is secured..."

Ehhh...not so much. The METF money isn't in the bank quite just yet. They haven't turned in their application to the Comptroller's office. They can't, as they have to do it within a year before the event (November 18th would be the earliest they could, IF anyone still believes at this point the event will happen at this time next year).

It will be in December that the World Motor Sports Council votes to formalize the dates of races - so they shouldn't apply until after that happens.

All that aside, it may not be legal for the Comptroller to grant them the METF money if there's a competing event in the US - which there now is. If they go after it, and Combs grants it, and somene sues over it, that too will cost us all money we don't have.

Never Too Late to do Right

Although we spent $13.5 million on water/wastewater (and were duped on that too), and we spent a good deal of staff time and energy on this deal with the devil, it's not too late to fix this.

The City has not yet signed, that we know of, the "events support contract" (it should have been in a publicly announced COTA meeting) that would officially sanction F1 being eligible for funds from the state coffers, as they need a local host. That doesn't address other requirements, however.

Now is the time for us to cut and run. Cancel the interlocal agreement we signed, and let COTA figure out how to pull this off. This should not be on the public's back.

Now is the time for LEADERSHIP. Wipe the egg off your face, Austin officials, before it hardens into a permanent, smelly mask.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article and well put. I have lost all confidence in this Council. It makes so much sense that these guys make outrageous capital gains claims every year.