After promoters of Formula One’s Grand Prix squealed past a deadline to obtain a state subsidy for their event, state lawmakers are racing to give them another chance to win the cash.
According to The Associated Press, the Grand Prix depends heavily on state cash to cover Formula One’s license fees for their races. And the Circuit of the Americas—which was built as a result of a corporate welfare deal—has already collected more than $150 million from the state’s taxpayer-funded Major Events Trust Fund.
Yet despite grabbing that massive pile of cash, race organizers recently planned yet another pit stop to fill up on taxpayer money. Last fall, they tried to snatch $25 million more in taxpayer cash to help pay for a 2018 race but missed a deadline to submit a plan to prevent human trafficking at their event, making them ineligible for the additional payment.
“The U.S. Grand Prix is scheduled to begin on October 19th,” Director of Economic Development and Tourism Bryan Daniel wrote in an October letter to COTA. “But as you have since acknowledged, no human trafficking prevention plan was submitted until October 3rd.”
Shortly after the group missed that deadline, Bobby Epstein, the chairman of the Circuit of the Americas, began donating to several elected officeholders.
Prior to the event, Epstein had donated largely to Democrats—forking over $60,000 to assist various Democrats in their November elections. But after the election (and after the Grand Prix), Epstein began donating heavily to Republican lawmakers. Just before the legislative session began in January, Gov. Greg Abbott received a $50,000 check; Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick received a $25,000 check; and members of the Texas Legislature received checks, as well.
As the bill filing deadline approached in the House, it appeared as though the Texas Legislature would not address the issue. However, the day before the deadline, State Rep. John Frullo (R-Lubbock) filed House Bill 4008.
According to the bill’s analysis, “the bill authorizes an event to receive program funding, if the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office (TEDTO) determines the event is ineligible due solely to a failure to timely submit the required plan to prevent the trafficking of persons to the applicable entities.”
Only one individual testified in favor of the legislation: registered lobbyist Andrew Weber on behalf of Circuit of the Americas.
The bill was later passed out of committee unanimously and then even passed the House unanimously at the beginning of May.
Epstein’s legislation, which will give him the $25 million he narrowly missed last fall, has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development, chaired by State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury). If the bill passes that committee, it will go to the full Senate for approval.
As taxpayers watch the legislature conclude its session in Austin and repeatedly show an aversion to use the state’s nearly $10 billion surplus to provide meaningful property tax relief to Texans, it is a stark contrast to watch how fast lawmakers will spin their wheels to give taxpayer cash to politically connected businesses.