Robin Vos Sticks It To Milwaukee
He gives Brewers more than they wanted and makes only Democratic parts of metro area pay for it.
The press conference was like an invasion by an occupying force dictating terms to the enemy.
Robin Vos and Republican officials presented a new deal for the Milwaukee Brewers at the team’s stadium, but with no Milwaukee or Democratic officials present, pushing a plan that would require only metro area support from Democratic areas. Republican Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties and swing county Racine will pay no local taxes whatsoever for the team, as Urban Milwaukee reported.
Worse, Vos has jacked up the cost of the deal, compared to one presented by Gov. Tony Evers, and that the Milwaukee Brewers supported. Evers’ plan cost $290 million or about $22.3 million per year, for a 13-year period beyond the current lease, which ends in 2030. Vos has proposed $700 million for 20 years (until 2050) with $100 million coming from the team in additional rent payments and $600 million in state and local taxes, or $30 million per added year. The Assembly Speaker’s version of fiscal conservatism is to hike the price of the subsidy agreed to by the team by $7.7 million per year. In short, all of that additional rent payment by the Brewers will come from additional tax money.
And that only begins to explain what a rotten deal this is for taxpayers.
Recall that back in December 2018 the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, the government entity which oversees the Brewers’ stadium, hired the M.A. Mortenson company to do a study of all projected needs for replacement of any stadium features or equipment until the year 2040.
Its very comprehensive report, released in March 2019, seemed to include every possible upgrade or repair, and estimated a total price tag of nearly $72 million while adding about $12.5 million to allow for “unforeseen or unexpected conditions and inflationary impacts.” And the district continued the stadium sales tax long enough to amass a reserve fund of $87 million to cover this.
But Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers’ president of business operations, only later claimed this report was not “comprehensive” enough, without ever specifying any shortcoming, and the Brewers hired Venue Solutions Group to do another assessment. That work was completed in August, 2022, and surely pleased its client. VSG concluded the cost of “major capital repairs and necessary improvements” is a whopping $428 million — some $344 million more than the earlier study. And no, the report provided no comparison to the Mortenson report to explain the difference in costs.
Rather than protect the taxpayers by having state budget analysts review the VSG report, Gov. Evers instead hired CAA ICON, a private consultant whose website brags it is “TRUSTED BY OWNERS” and the “industry-leading owner’s representative and strategic management consulting firm for public/private sports and entertainment facility owners.” It did a report that ratcheted up the cost estimated by VSG by “26% to 41%,” concluding it could cost “$540 million to $604 million to extend the useful life of the Stadium through 2040.”
That’s a median price tag of $572 million or $488 million more than the Mortenson report’s estimate.
Mostly the report served to make the Brewers call for $428 million in funding look low, and Evers’ proposal, which expected the $290 million in tax money to earn interest and grow in value before it began to be spent, and when combined with the reserve fund created by the stadium authority, to give the Brewers the $428 million they wanted.
But Vos and the Republicans expressed outrage that Evers crafted his proposal without their input. Did they have the highly respected Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyze the Brewers request, as it does for other budget Items? Nope. Instead Vos and company decided that Evers hadn’t offered the Brewers enough money. So they increased the costs for taxpayers still more.
They did not explaIn how they reached this decision other than to say the stadium reserve fund was now only worth about $10 million, not the $70 million that has been frequently reported. But according to Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy, who serves as Board Chair of the stadium district, and is a fervent champion of the Brewers’ subsidy, the district will have “about $68M to spend on capital improvements between 2024 and 2040. Which amounts to $4.2M per year, assuming no surprises,” he noted in an email to Urban Milwaukee.
The original Brewers stadium deal used a five-county sales tax because it was widely recognized that fans came from all over the greater Milwaukee area. Republicans, however, now claim that only Milwaukee County should pay the local tax because it is the primary beneficiary of the team.
In fact a 2020 report on the team’s economic impact used data provided by the Brewers on attendance which showed that only 38% of fans came from Milwaukee county, with 48% coming from outside the county and 14% from outside the state. So the county that has 38% of the fans must pay 100% of the local subsidy for the team.
Republicans also claimed the Brewers deal was similar to the deal for the Milwaukee Bucks arena. But most of the local tax for that is the Wisconsin Center District hotel and car rental tax, of which a high percent is paid by tourists.
And while the Bucks were given free land (from the county), the team must pay property taxes on that land and has done considerable development, building a hotel, apartments and a medical facility, with more plans being discussed. The Brewers have 200 acres of land which are exempt by state law from property taxes and used for “a sea of parking,” as Mayor Cavalier Johnson has complained.
Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) predicted the proposed Brewers subsidy will lead to “a lot of ancillary development in the area.” Even if this did happen, any and all development on this land would be exempt from property taxes and provide no payoff for the city or county. Moreover, Mark Attanasio has owned the team for 19 years and has done no development to date. Why would that change?
As noted by Mayor Johnson, city residents will pay double for the annual required payments of $2.5 million in city taxes and $5 million in county taxes. This will be collected beginning in 2024 and continue for 27 years, for a total of $202.5 million. Residents of the city with the most poor people in Wisconsin will pay the heaviest price to subsidize a billionaire owner and millionaire ballplayers. These are the taxpayers who are least likely to be able to afford to attend a game.
The Milwaukee County board has unanimously opposed such a subsidy, and a recent poll found that Milwaukee residents oppose this by a two-to-one margin. So the only way it can be adopted is through force; it will be “crammed down our throats,” as Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman told Urban Milwaukee, by reducing the state shared revenue for the city and county.
Republicans expect to do just this with passage of their proposal in October. Evers, however, could veto the bill and insist that his cheaper proposal — which the Brewers supported — be adopted.
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- Preserve Our Parks Calls on Governor Evers to Oppose Inequitable Funding Formula for Support of Brewers Baseball Stadium - Preserve Our Parks - Sep 27th, 2023
- Murphy’s Law: How Much Do Brewers Benefit Milwaukee? - Bruce Murphy - Sep 25th, 2023
- Will Brewers Subsidy Include Community Benefits Deal? - Erik Gunn - Sep 19th, 2023
- Milwaukee Still Paying $1 Million Per Year For Brewers Stadium - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 19th, 2023
- Murphy’s Law: Robin Vos Sticks It To Milwaukee - Bruce Murphy - Sep 19th, 2023
- Statement on stadium financing package proposal - Milwaukee Common Council - Sep 19th, 2023
- Sen. Carpenter Says Milwaukee and Wisconsin Deserve a Better Deal - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Sep 18th, 2023
- Supervisor Taylor Reiterates Opposition of County Tax Dollars for American Family Field Renovations - Sup. Steve F. Taylor - Sep 18th, 2023
- Mayor Johnson Responds To Stadium Funding Deal - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 18th, 2023
- County Executive Crowley on Brewers Legislation - County Executive David Crowley - Sep 18th, 2023
Read more about Miller Park Stadium Tax here