in Houston, Texas
Formula One organizers get $29.3 million from taxpayers
Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012, 03:21PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
racecar

No one is quite sure how officials arrived at the dollar amount, but state Comptroller Susan Combs cut a $29.3 million check to the group that staged the first Formula One race in November outside of Austin.

The public has been waiting for more than two years to learn exactly how the payment would be calculated and a raft of other details involving its stake in subsidizing an event described in the local media as something close to The Rapture, were it fast, loud and smelly.

No one involved in staging the race has been too sure of how much anything cost taxpayers, not that it seems to have mattered much. The Austin American-Statesman, which did its full share of cheerleading for the event, has carried on a rather lonesome effort in court to try to get to the bottom of some of it.

It is the Statesman Tuesday saying the comptroller authorized a payment based on an estimate of the tax revenue the event is supposed to have generated. The estimate was developed by the comptroller’s staff with the assistance of the Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee, a group affiliated with Circuit of the Americas.

The organizing committee this summer had estimated the three-day race extravaganza would generate $26.4 million. Still, the group thought nothing of asking for $30.6 million from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund.

Trust fund guidelines give the comptroller’s office up to 18 months to arrive at the true tax revenue figure. That would be approximately six months after the 2013 Austin race, the exact dates of which have not been finalized.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at mark@texaswatchdog.org or 512-299-2318.

Photo of racecar by flickr user Phil Ostroff, used via a Creative Commons license.

Formula 1 races in Austin later this month, courtesy of the taxpayers, but at what cost?
Thursday, Nov 08, 2012, 10:55AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Formula 1

An event so stupendous, so gargantuan it threatens to shut down all of Austin demands from the city a plan so all-encompassing no one could possibly tell how much it might cost.

Which, judging from the way it has done business with the city, is just fine with Circuit of the Americas, which is bringing its show to the Capital City sometime next week for races Nov. 16-18.

While the public waits for a judge to decide whether it has the right to see how its tax money is involved with the Formula 1 event, Circuit officials aren’t quite sure how they might be reimbursing the city and Travis County for turning their sheriff’s, police, fire and streets departments over to them for some of that “Laissez les bons temps rouler-ing,” the Austin American-Statesman reports today.

The Statesman has so far done a bang-up job making whatever it can public about the European sport of the extremely well-to-do, from junkets offered to city officials to a plan to siphon off some of that free solar development money Austin Energy likes to give away.

City Manager Mark Ott has assured the hoi polloi the city is doing everything it can to keep costs down. A bill is being carefully kept for all of the public services including the master command center in East Austin and the auxiliary command centers at the track and in the middle of traffic downtown.

Just what that bill will read by the time the circus - we meant Circuit - moves to another glamorous town, Ott cannot say.

Circuit of the Americas needn’t worry. When it comes to things the city of Austin really wants, like a billion-dollar urban choo-choo or eliminating the blight of plastic grocery bags, it is worth it no matter what it costs.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of F1 race car by flickr user ash-brown, used via a Creative Commons license.

Documents show Circuit of the Americas wants $566K solar panel handout
Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012, 11:59AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
solar

We can’t be sure what is more surprising: that it took so long for Circuit of the Americas to ask for a half a million dollar Austin Energy solar power handout or that the public was able to find out about it.

Credit the Austin American-Statesman again for going after documents attesting to the request by the operators of a new Formula One racetrack in Travis County for no more than $566,200 over the next decade for a solar array.

The Statesman has tracked an agreement with the state for as much as $250 million in taxpayer funds to be returned to Circuit of the Americas for meeting certain sales tax goals in its first decade of operation.

Local government has offered up taxpayers as partners in two road expansions needed by the track. There may be other partnerships the public isn’t aware of because Circuit of the Americas would rather you didn’t know so much about their internal business affairs.

In exchange, the company has generously offered to pay some, but not all, of the expense to send Austin city officials on a Formula One fact-finding junket to England.

Showing a deep environmental commitment, Circuit of the Americas has a plan for a series of solar panels that could produce 330,000 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of power use for 28 average homes per year or 40 percent of the power needed for the track site -- when it isn’t in use.

It is a commitment forged by years of sending two dozen cars with engines getting five miles to the gallon for 190 miles around tracks all over the world.

Why else would a racing company have its own sustainability director?

Whether or not the company fulfills its grand commitment depends on the incentive, courtesy of Austin Energy rate payers, paid in advance, Edgar Farrera, the sustainability director, says.

As it did during the time of the Great Stimulus Giveaway of 2009, solar energy proved time and again its value as a taxpayer investment, with projects often paying for themselves in less than 75 years.

Austin Energy has entertained asking its rate payers to subsidize a $700-$800 million project to put solar panels on every major building in Austin.

What is another $566,200 in the name of sustainability?

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of solar panels by flickr user Photo Mojo Mike, used via a Creative Commons license.

God save the Queen -- and our tax dollars; Austin junket event 'chaos,' a 'nightmare'
Friday, Jul 06, 2012, 04:51PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
queen

Bloomin’ g’day and right ho to all you chappies and birds, crumpets and nabobs. Texas Watchdog is coming to you live from Silverstone Raceway in Jolly Ol’ England.

Well, not exactly. We weren’t offered the same last minute, all expenses paid junket the blokes from the city of Austin got.

Just imagine, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, City Manager Marc Ott, Police Chief Art Acevedo and Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr getting all knackered collecting facts about Formula One racing to bring back to the hoi polloi here in the Colonies.

But, blimey, if we didn’t do the next best thing, checking up with the Northampton Chronicle & Echo website. Seems our right honorable Safety and Security Measures Research Mission ran into a bit of a gullywasher.

Looks like it’s all mackintoshes, galoshes and bumbershoots this weekend, wot? Just don’t seem cricket, what with all the money put up by Circuit of the Americas, builder of a Formula One track in Travis County, and the $5,556 generously donated by the taxed class.

Katie Tyler, Silverstone’s director of communications, is calling it a disaster. We e-mailed Katie this afternoon, hoping to find out what our intrepid racing explorers might be doing to stay dry.

We also e-mailed Jeremy Casey, the sports editor of the Chronicle & Echo, and John Harrison, who is covering the raceway deluge, confident that they had at least been introduced to our Austin VIPs.

More than likely we will get an up-to-the-moment report after tea time.

Rest assured our intrepid expedition will return with everything needed to conduct a race in a flood. Only a tosser or plonker would think that’s not money well spent.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of Queen Elizabeth via the Official Website of the British Monarchy.

Austin officials to see F1 racing in England; city taxpayers get $5,556 bill
Friday, Jun 29, 2012, 02:07PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
F1 car

Not crazy enough to let a perfectly good junket go to waste, Austin’s top city officials will be going to England courtesy of a Formula One racing company.

Oh, and city taxpayers, who will be picking up $5,556 to send four other city officials, in what has become a sprawling junket saga for the Austin American-Statesman.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Manager Marc Ott, who are getting their travel and board paid for by Circuit of the Americas, whose offer to do the same for two Travis County officials was spurned the other day by the Commissioner’s Court.

The gracious, normally secretive Circuit folks are also paying to put up Police Chief Art Acevedo, Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr and two other city officials, whose airfare taxpayers will be footing.

Calm down, you fiscal worrywarts out there. The tickets are coach.

Although the short notice was one of the reasons the county turned down the free trip, city officials are making time to spend July 5-9 at Silverstone, where racing entrepreneurs have crowned the lovely English countryside with a jagged 3.2-mile ring of asphalt.

As was the excuse proffered by county officials, Austin’s leaders are going to take an eyewitness look at how a Formula One event is staged. The $300 million Circuit of the Americas racetrack here is hosting racing Nov. 16-18.

City Council member Kathie Tovo, who had been alerted to the trip by the American-Statesman, said, “Public money should not be used to fund trips to England in support of the Formula One race. The City of Austin has many pressing needs, and it would be inappropriate to use our scarce dollars for this purpose.”

Tovo may or may not have been referring to the pressing need for $2.2 million to run the money-losing MetroRail trains on the weekends. Or the $2 million to give away reusable grocery bags to low-income Austinites. Or maybe the $1.2 million to make Austin Energy’s private cleaning service public.

Or maybe she was piqued not having been invited along on the Silverstone junket.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo 'Formula 1: British Grand Prix' by flickr user Alex Basnett, used via a Creative Commons license.

Junket junked: Travis County officials’ all-expenses-paid trip to F1 track in England scrapped
Wednesday, Jun 27, 2012, 03:56PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
racetrack

A pair of Travis County Commissioners, concerned at the short notice, blocked a county staff trip for two to London, all expenses paid by the operators of a Formula One racetrack outside of Austin.

County Judge Sam Biscoe recommended the county take up the offer so Fire Marshal Hershel Lee and a Sheriff’s Department official could scope out safety and security measures taken by Formula One operators at the Silverstone track.

Having thrashed out the plan behind closed doors - an operating method familiar to Circuit of Americas, which has blocked public scrutiny of its dealings with Travis County and the state of Texas - commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Karen Huber said no go in the open session, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Biscoe and commissioner Margaret Gómez supported the trip, but the deciding vote, commissioner Ron Davis, was not at the meeting.

“Time is too short,” Huber said, “and the homework is not done."

Eckhardt said she would be open to sending county staff on a similar fact finding trip with better advance planning. She did not, however, say whether or not she favored the trip being paid for by the secretive track operators or by taxpayers.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo 'Formula Renault, Silverstone 2010' by flickr user ash-brown, used via a Creative Commons license.

Junket or fact-finding trip? Travis County officials to attend F1 race in England courtesy of company behind Formula One track
Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012, 10:05AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Formula One

Investors trying to get as much of a $300 million racetrack built in secret in Travis County as they possibly can are offering to pay for an all-expenses trip to England for two county officials to study race week preparations.

Just don’t call it a junket. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe tells the Austin American-Statesman today he’s looked into it and concluded that it is a needed fact-finding mission.

But just to be on the safe side, Biscoe says he declined his invitation.

Exactly why Circuit of the Americas abandoned its secrecy first policy and made its offer to the county officials public is anyone’s guess. The newspaper is currently trying to pry from Circuit of the Americas, the company building the Formula One track, financial documents outlining taxpayer investment in the business.

The newspaper has been making open records requests to discern local, county and state commitments to Formula One for more than two years.

Biscoe is asking Travis County commissioners to approve allowing Hershel Lee, the county fire marshal, and someone selected from the Sheriff’s Department to take the offer to see for themselves the safety and security preparations for an F1 track.

No total estimates of the cost of the trip have been made, but Biscoe says the county would pay each of its employees a per diem for the four or five days they were in England.

Bill Aleshire, a former county judge and prominent free speech and open government attorney in Austin, says that while the junk, er, trip might give the appearance of improper influence, he would prefer the company rather than taxpayers bear its cost.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo 'F1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix 2012' by flickr user vikhoa, used via a Creative Commons license.

Statesman seeks court records on taxpayer-subsidized Formula One racing track
Thursday, May 17, 2012, 10:03AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
racing car

Given the track record (pun most certainly intended) of the investors who brought Formula One to Austin, the public is going to have to file an open records request to find out how the first race in November came out.

The Austin American-Statesman this week filed a request with a Travis County district judge to release financial information about the $300 million F1 track included in a lawsuit filed by the former head of the project against several of the investors.

Texas Watchdog has for two years tracked the Statesman’s noble effort to make public the involvement of state and local governments and the use of tax money in the deal.

Two district judges have already decided after hearings to allow certain information to be sealed in the lawsuit filed in March by Tavo Hellmund and Full Throttle Productions against Bobby Epstein, chairman of Circuit of the Americas, and other investors.

Lawyers for Circuit of the Americas asked that the information be sealed because it would expose business practices they believe should remain confidential. Attorneys for Hellmund want the records opened.

The public has a right to know everything in the lawsuit because taxpayers are heavily invested in the project, John Bridges, the newspaper’s managing editor, said in the story.

Travis County taxpayers, whether they liked it or not, signed on to fund two road expansions made necessary by the track. Investors could also be eligible for $250 million in state taxpayer money over 10 years if the track meets certain state sales tax goals.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo 'Formula One World Championship' by flickr user varlen, used via a Creative Commons license.

More Formula One information sought from state Comptroller Susan Combs
Thursday, Jul 14, 2011, 02:33PM CST
By Kevin Lee
Formula One

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has received a public information request for documents related to Austin's Formula One plans, the Austin Business Journal reported Wednesday.

The Formula One racing saga has been ongoing for more than a year as local and state officials in Austin attempt to initiate construction on a racetrack and draw the popular international racing organization to the state’s capital.

The Journal reports that lawyer Bill Aleshire has requested through the Texas Public Information Act the following information:

• Any records the comptroller has regarding when the Formula One race in Travis County will be held in 2012, including any emails or other written correspondence referencing, announcing or indicating “the date on which the event will begin” or “the 12 months immediately preceding the event.”

• Any records indicating the person or specific entity that the Texas comptroller believes has authority to officially set the date of the local 2012 Formula One race and whether that authority has been exercised.

• Any email or other written correspondence, contract or report regarding a Formula One race transmitted between the State Comptroller’s Office — or any official or employee of that office — and any official, agent or employee of the city of Austin or the Circuit Event Local Organizing Committee since May 1, 2011.

• Records showing any transfer of the fiscal 2011 appropriation of money, under the Major Events Trust Fund, from the state’s general fund, relating to a Formula One race, to the METF; and any records reflecting any expenditure or encumbrance of that money and the balance in that fund. This request includes any records indicating whether the four conditions on which the appropriation was made contingent have been satisfied.

Aleshire represented plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Combs that alleged the Texas comptroller promised $25 million in taxpayer funds to race promoters before she was authorized to do so. The suit was withdrawn earlier this month after a federal judge ruled she would not halt payment from the comptroller’s office to race officials.

Proponents for the Formula One racing track, which could begin hosting races and events next year, claim it would be a huge economic engine for Austin, while opponents harbor concerns over the cost and lack of spending accountability.

Texas Watchdog reported last year on the lack of information over who would be receiving the $25 million in taxpayer funds. A recent editorial from the Austin American-Statesman noted that not much is known about the nonprofit handling contracting duties on behalf of the city.

Travis County officials on Wednesday approved of issuing permits for construction of the Formula One track, the Statesman reported.

***

Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or kevin@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.
 
Photo: Four-time Formula One champion Alain Prost of France in his Ferrari F1-90 after qualifying in the rain at the U.S. Grand Prix at Phoenix, Ariz., in March 1990.  Photo by flickr user stuseeger, used under a Creative Commons license. 


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swamplot | 7 years 10 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 7 years 10 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 7 years 10 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 7 years 10 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
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