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Lawsuit in Austin Seeks to Block Formula One Race

DALLAS — A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Austin claims that Texas Comptroller Susan Combs illegally promised a $25 million state subsidy for a Formula One race event next year.

The lawsuit comes as the Austin City Council considers whether to endorse the race at a track under construction east of the city.

Promoters need a city endorsement to qualify for the subsidy from the state's major events trust fund, which has been tapped in the past to help attract events such as this year's Super Bowl in Arlington.

The lawsuit claims that Combs' approval of the subsidy was premature because the event had not yet been endorsed by a local government.

However, a spokesman for the comptroller said that all laws were followed and that the event would create jobs and spur economic development.

Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County judge and tax collector, is representing three local plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Aleshire also opposed the use of any taxpayer revenue for the Formula One event before the lawsuit was filed.

After a public hearing Thursday in which supporters of the event showed up in bright orange construction vests, the City Council postponed a vote on endorsing the event until next week.

Promoters cautioned that postponing the vote until Wednesday could endanger the deal, but the City Council decided to wait.

Richard Suttle, an attorney for race organizers, said that immediate approval was needed to allow the comptroller to review the agreement and release the $25 million subsidy in time to meet a late July deadline.

Even a short council delay could complicate the schedule because it could force committee members to meet near the upcoming July 4 weekend when officials may not be available.

At Thursday's City Council meeting, officials cited a recent article in AutoWeek magazine for its cautions about agreeing to a 10-year commitment to Formula One racing, an international series that takes place on challenging road courses.

Describing a meeting in advance of Thursday's council meeting with race promoters, city officials, and a representative from the comptroller's office, the magazine article said: "No one seemed able to explain several contentious issues to the satisfaction of those present — and this work session did not even include public input."

Still unexplained is the source of funding for the race and how it is being used.

Construction on the 5.5-kilometer track broke ground last December and is expected to be complete just a few weeks before the June 2012 race.

The track in the area east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport features 133 feet of elevation changes and 20 turns.

The U.S. construction firm HKS is building the track.

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