His vote to build AmFam Field killed his political career. What does George Petak think of the current funding debate?

NOW: His vote to build AmFam Field killed his political career. What does George Petak think of the current funding debate?

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- With one vote in October of 1995, George Petak made Wisconsin history twice. He cast the deciding vote to provide public stadium funding that kept the Brewers in Milwaukee, which then led to him becoming the first state lawmaker successfully recalled from office.

These days, Petak, 73, is retired and living in Colorado. Nearly 28 years after a vote that preserved Major League Baseball in Wisconsin, but also ended his political career, Petak said he had no regrets.

"I was convinced then, and I'm convinced now that it was the right thing to do at the right time," Petak said in an interview Friday.

The journal of the Wisconsin State Legislature reflects nearly 18 hours of drama beginning shortly before noon on October 5, 1995. Around midnight, the Senate voted twice on a bill creating a new baseball stadium district and funding it with a new five-county, 0.1% sales tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties.

Petak, who represented Racine as a Republican, voted 'no' on those two votes voted, and they both failed 16-15. Hours of recess followed on a tense night, with acting MLB Commissioner, and former Brewers owner, Bud Selig in the Capitol.

There had been friction within the GOP over the bill. Then-Governor Tommy Thompson enthusiastically supported the bill while former Senate Majority Leader Mike Ellis was against it.

Then, shortly before 5 a.m., there was a third vote, and Petak changed his vote. 

He said it was clear no one else was going to flip to a 'yes.' Milwaukee Democrats, including former State Senator Gary George and Gwen Moore, who now serves in Congress, were against the funding plan.

"We weren't gonna get any more Democratic votes. We had a limited number of Republican votes," Petak said. "And it was time to stand up and do the right thing for Milwaukee, for Southeast Wisconsin and for the State of Wisconsin."

The vote saddled Racine County with a share of the ballpark funding responsibilities. Petak said surveys of constituents were contentious, with a slight edge in favor of the county helping pay for construction of a new stadium for the Brewers.

However, the vote trigged a firestorm and, that following March, organizers successfully gathered enough signatures to trigger a recall election in Petak's district. Petak lost in June to Democratic challenger Kim Plache, who called the funding bill "the Republican rape of Racine," according to a New York Times article recapping the outcome.

A new funding debate

The stadium sales tax ended up generating more than $600 million before being sunset in 2020. 

The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District currently has less than $100 million in reserves. The district is responsible for maintaining the stadium.

The Brewers' lease with the district runs through 2030, but the team has the option to extend it for another 10 years. 

A study commissioned by the ballclub estimated American Family Field will need $428 million worth of renovations by 2040.

Petak said he supports keeping the Brewers in Wisconsin beyond the end of the current lease, but he favors a different form of financing going forward.

"At this point, I would say anybody but the taxpayers [should be responsible,]" Petak said.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed giving nearly $300 million in state support, but Republicans stripped that out of the state budget.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has said he wants the amount of state aid tied to the amount of income tax revenue the state receives from MLB personnel, which has averaged about $10 million per season in recent years. 

Vos wants Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to pay for ballpark maintenance as well, but the Milwaukee County Board voted last month to oppose spending any more money on the Brewers' stadium.

"To go back to the taxpayers, I just can't personally see that happening without a great deal of angst," Petak said.

Petak said he hoped private businesses and organizations will provide funding for a new round of stadium renovations.

The debate will pick up steam in the coming months when Republicans produce a bill outlining their counterproposal to Evers.

Petak said he was optimistic the Brewers will end up staying but knows better than anyone just how sensitive the talks -- and eventual votes -- will be.

"I think it'll probably be resolved at some point," Petak said. "But it's not going to be easy."

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