Milwaukee County executive seeks 'local contribution' toward Brewers stadium renovations
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A spokesperson for Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley confirmed Monday his office is seeking more flexibility in how the county can use money generated by a recently enacted sales tax increase. That change would then free up other dollars the county could put toward extensive renovations at American Family Field.
Crowley's communications director, Brandon Weathersby, told CBS 58 Crowley was pursuing the changes at the request of Democratic leadership in the state Legislature.
"We proposed technical changes to the Act 12 language to allow us to use sales tax dollars to further reduce our structural deficit," Weathersby said. "And provide more financial flexibility for Milwaukee County to provide a local contribution [to stadium repairs.]"
The tax increase, which will bring Milwaukee County's sales tax from 0.5% to 0.9%, effective Jan. 1, will generate about $80 million per year in additional revenue.
Weathersby said Crowley's office was working with the GOP-controlled Legislature to let the county spend those dollars on more than one type of pension-related debt payment. Weathersby said state law currently only lets that revenue cover pension obligation bonds.
He said Crowley wanted to use sales tax money to pay off additional types of pension-related debt. That flexibility would then allow other dollars to go toward ballpark renovations, although Weathersby followed up to say funding stadium repairs was not a top priority.
"We aren't proactively trying to find a local contribution on this item," Weathersby said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has previously said he would only support a stadium funding plan that included direct contributions from Milwaukee.
However, any county spending plan would need the Milwaukee County Board's approval. In May, the board took a symbolic vote, unanimously opposing the use of county money on additional stadium repairs.
Supervisor Peter Burgelis, whose district includes American Family Field, said Monday he remained against spending any county dollars on stadium upgrades.
"I look forward to a significant investment from the state of Wisconsin for the Brewers and for AmFam Field, but that simply can't come from Milwaukee County," Burgelis said. "It has to come from the state."
The Brewers' current lease runs through 2030, and the team has the option of extending that lease through 2040. A study commissioned by the team estimated the ballpark will need $428 million worth of renovations by 2040.
Earlier this year, Democratic Governor Tony Evers proposed putting nearly $300 million in state funding into the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, which operates American Family Field and owns about 70% of the park.
Evers reasoned that money would accrue interest over time while covering repairs through 2043. However, the Republican-controlled Legislature stripped out that money when it rewrote the governor's budget this spring.
In a statement Monday, Vos said negotiations were still ongoing.
"We are engaging in discussions, and working to find a consensus that everyone can support," Vos said. "We hope to have a finalized proposal in the near future."
According to a report Friday from WisPolitics.com, Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) has indicated a recent proposal calls for $698 million in public funding over a 27-year period. Brooks did not respond to multiple messages Monday.
Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee), whose district includes the stadium, declined to do an interview for this story but said multiple memos outlining different ballpark funding plans have been circulating around the Capitol in recent weeks.
Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman said he supported bringing back the five-county, 0.1% sales tax in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Ozaukee and Washington counties.
The tax funded construction of what was then Miller Park, and it has continued to pay for repairs and upgrades through the present day.
However, the tax sunset in 2020, and as of earlier this year, about $70 million of its revenue remained in the stadium district's fund, which is responsible for stadium maintenance and renovations for the duration of the team's lease.
Wasserman said he would vote against any stadium funding plan that was not a restart of the five-county sales tax.
"We have a funding mechanism; it was the 0.1% sales tax," Wasserman said. "The citizens were promised that was the way to pay for it, and now, all of a sudden, 'we don't have money, we need money' from everybody, and Milwaukee County alone? Forget it."
The stadium district's board is composed of representatives from all five counties.
Legislative leaders have said they're hopeful there will be enough traction on a new funding plan in order to draft a bill in time for the fall session.