'Can't have it all their way': Senate Dems still skeptical after Capitol meeting with Brewers exec

NOW: ’Can’t have it all their way’: Senate Dems still skeptical after Capitol meeting with Brewers exec

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A top Brewers executive met with Senate Democrats at the state Capitol Wednesday afternoon as part of the team's ongoing push to secure public funding for extensive renovations at American Family Field.

Democratic lawmakers and the Brewers confirmed the team's director of business operations, Rick Schlesinger, traveled to Madison to meet with the Senate Democratic caucus.

Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said in an interview she would not vote for the current Republican-authored stadium funding bill.

"No, we do not support it," Agard said. "There's too much being put on the backs on the people of the city and county of Milwaukee."

The GOP proposal, which Republicans introduced Monday, calls for more than $600 million in taxpayer support, which would improve and maintain the stadium through 2050.

The state would provide $411 million, Milwaukee County would contribute $135 million and another $67.5 million would come from the city of Milwaukee. The Brewers would provide $100 million.

The state owns the ballpark and operates it through the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District.

State Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee), whose district includes the stadium, said he believed the Brewers and private interests should contribute at least twice the amount they would under the Republican proposal.

"[Brewers owner] Mark Attanasio and/or the business community have gotta step up and make a commitment of at least $200 million," Carpenter said. "I think the Brewers are going to have to compromise because they can't have it all their way."

Republicans have argued income taxes collected from Major League Baseball personnel would cover the state's investment over 27 years. They maintain the city and county would benefit from ballpark-related sales taxes.

The vast majority of economists who've studied public stadium financing conclude taxpayers rarely see the return promised in funding deals for professional sports teams.

In a statement, Schlesinger said the Republican plan, combined with an earlier proposal from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to commit $290 million in an effort to maintain the park through 2043, proved there's bipartisan support for a stadium funding plan.

"The Brewers have met, and will continue to meet, with both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to help find a creative, bipartisan solution," Schlesinger said in a statement.

Milwaukee leaders have so far criticized the GOP plan, which could receive its first public hearing later this month before receiving a full vote from the Legislature in October.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson, as well as Milwaukee County Board supervisors, have called for the stadium district to turn over some of the land currently used for parking lots so it can instead become taxable developments for the city and county.

Schlesinger said Monday the team has said it wants to keep the parking lots as they are. 

Agard said she was hopeful a deal would eventually be reached and added she believed Schlesinger took Democrats' concerns seriously.

"They love calling Wisconsin home, and Rick delivered that message to our caucus," she said. "He also understands the impacts of the bill, as proposed, on the city of Milwaukee and the county of Milwaukee."

Carpenter said the meeting did not leave him feeling optimistic about the potential for significant compromise. 

"I think the Brewers are misreading the situation," he said. "I don't want to say 'arrogant,' but they are not hearing what people are saying, that they have to come up with a larger source to help pay for things."

The Senate is currently made up of 22 Republicans and 11 Democrats. If at least six Republicans oppose the final bill, at least one Democrat would need to vote in favor of the plan or else it will fail.

Bipartisan support...for an audit

Carpenter said he also would have a hard time voting for a stadium fund plan without first seeing an audit of the stadium district.

He's called for the Legislative Audit Bureau to dig into how the district used the $600 million raised by the original 0.01% five-county sales tax that built and maintained the stadium. The tax was sunset in 2020.

The district's chairman, Tim Sheehy, told reporters after a board meeting Tuesday the district had about $71 million left in its reserves. 

A report commissioned by the Brewers estimated American Family Field will need $428 million in repairs through 2040. The team's lease in Milwaukee runs through 2030, but the team has the option of extending it by another 10 years.

"If you're gonna be fiscally responsible about spending $400-600 million, we want to know where the money was spent beforehand," Carpenter said. "It's just not legit."

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) has also called for a legislative audit of the stadium district. He noted the audit bureau looked into the finances of Lambeau Field before Brown County implemented a tax to fund renovations in Green Bay.

"Before we further consider this proposal on its merits, we need to take the same steps we took for Lambeau Field," Cowles said in a statement Tuesday.

Cowles did not return a message left Wednesday evening. 

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