Texas Land Commissioner asks AG for opinion.
The Texas comptroller is coming under fire for spending millions in taxpayer money to attract sporting events to the Lone Star State.
The Legislature back in 2009 gave Comptroller Susan Combs the power to use a special fund to spur the economy through events like the NCAA Final Four or Olympic trials, but critics says she is abusing that power.
The money comes from several “trust fund” accounts designed to bring out-of-state visitors to Texas, they're fattened with sales, alcohol and hotel occupancy taxes. Cities hosting the events also are required to chip in some of their own tax receipts.
State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says Combs so far has doled out $175 million on things like the Cotton Bowl, Alamo Bowl, even a racetrack near Austin.
"Combs committed over a quarter of a billion dollars, that's $25 million a year for ten years to attract Formula One to Texas, and Formula One has already committed to Texas without that incentive," says Patterson. "I don't understand what we're doing, that's the bottom line."
"We're also spending money to attract the Alamo Bowl, well the Alamo Bowl has always been at the Alamo Dome," he says. "We're spending money to attract the Cotton Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl has been here since 1937."
Insiders say Patterson is just playing politics since he and Combs could face off for Lt. Governor in 2014.
Texas Watchdog's Mark Lisheron says that fund is meant to attract not-for-profit one-time events, so there is a real concern.
"Just like the governor who has been pilloried for his fund for technology startups and whether or not he's doing what President Obama is doing with Solyndra," says Lisheron. "Susan Combs, the Legislature gave her the authority to pick sports winners and losers, and that's what she's been doing."
Patterson has asked the state attorney general to issue an opinion on the matter. Combs' office did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Greg Ortale at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau argues there are strict rules for which events are even eligible under the fund.
"It has to be a not-for-profit activity," says Ortale. "So it has to be with the city, county or not-for-profit organization."
The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority's Janis Schmees says the fund has helped attract such numerous events over the years.
"It's a competitive process," says Schmees. "Many of these sporting events are 501c3s and they're struggling, so the state's matching grant program really helps us attract them to our area."