Brewers stadium stalemate: GOP leader says locals must fund ballpark repairs; county board committee says no
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wednesday was 'Brewers Math Day' at American Family Field, where the home team hosted a kid-friendly matinee. Off the field, the team seeks extensive ballpark renovations before its lease ends in 2030 -- and the numbers aren't adding up between dueling proposals from Republican legislative leaders, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and some local government officials
The sides have drifted further apart over the past week. On Monday, the Milwaukee County Board's intergovernmental relations committee unanimously passed a resolution stating the board opposes the use of any county tax dollars on Brewers stadium repairs.
Just three days earlier, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said at a Milwaukee Press Club event he would not support any ballpark renovations bill that either created a new tax or did not include money from Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.
"It's gotta be the locals also stepping up," Vos said. "Saying, 'hey, here's what the city and county are willing to do to keep one of the biggest economic drivers for the city and the county,' and not assume it's all gonna be state funding."
Vos signaled he'd support the state contributing to the effort, which could cost between $425 and $600 million, based on different studies the team and Evers administration commissioned.
Vos said he'd like to see the state's amount based on the income taxes Major League Baseball players pay the state, since that's the money Wisconsin would directly lose if the Brewers moved to another city.
Professional athletes pay state income taxes based on where their games are played. For example, visiting players in the Brewers' division play six of their team's 162 games in Milwaukee, so they'll get a Wisconsin income tax bill that's based on 3.7% of their salary.
"Well, if no players play a game here, that means all of that money is gone," Vos said.
The Department of Revenue did not respond Wednesday to a request for data on how much money the state collects from MLB players.
Vos suggested an American Family Field funding package could be based on the 2015 deal that built Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Under that agreement, state, county and city taxpayers all contributed to a package that amounted to $400 million after interest.
Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Steve Taylor, one of the lone conservatives on the board, said the idea was offensive, given former Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry just sold his 25% share of the team for $800 million.
After the team sold for $550 million in 2014, Lasry's sale meant the Bucks were now worth $3.2 billion, thanks in large part to the new arena, which the Bucks own.
"Why is that fair?" Taylor said in an interview Wednesday. "That we're helping the wealthy become more wealthy when we are struggling in so many areas in the county."
Taylor said he believed Milwaukee County got a raw deal in the final Bucks agreement. The county is on the hook for $80 million after interest. Because it doesn't have that money upfront, the state is garnishing $4 million from the county's annual shared revenue aid over a 20-year period.
"The Brewers should pay for [renovations], and maybe the state as well," Taylor said. "But it shouldn't be the City of Milwaukee and it shouldn't be Milwaukee County."
Let the voters decide?
Taylor said if legislators insist on having Milwaukee County help pay for the renovations, then voters should get to weigh in via referendum. He added it'd be hypocritical of legislative leaders to not allow a stadium referendum, since they're determined to require one in order for Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to raise their sales taxes under a massive shared revenue bill that's currently being debated in Madison.
"I would argue and ask our residents: What's more important to you? The Brewers or your local parks?" Taylor said. "Or getting to work on time because now, there's no longer a bus?"
Due to debt obligations that date back to a pension scandal in the early 2000s, the county is facing a fiscal cliff as soon as 2025. Without significantly more money, the county is eyeing substantial cuts.
On Wednesday, Evers maintained support for the plan he proposed as part of the upcoming state budget: a $290 million one-time payment that dips into the state's projected $7 billion surplus.
Evers described the Brewers' stadium renovations as "a statewide issue," and said his plan would be cheaper because it avoids interest while also keeping local governments from having to pony up.
"Everybody's saying the municipalities need more money for all sorts of reasons," Evers said. "And then, 'oh by the way, we're gonna take this money away,' That doesn't cut it with me."
Vos has said Evers' proposal is dead because it will never get support from the Republican-controlled legislature. The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee stripped Evers' ballpark funding plan out of the budget last week.
The one thing Republicans, Evers and local leaders do agree on is losing a big-league team would be a crushing blow to both the region and the state, which already happened once before when the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966.
"If the team leaves, we still own the stadium, and have to pay to either take it down, or find somebody else to use it," Vos said. "The chances of us getting a professional baseball team to come to Wisconsin after we lose one are zero."