Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Robin Vos Sticks It To Milwaukee

He gives Brewers more than they wanted and makes only Democratic parts of metro area pay for it.

By - Sep 19th, 2023 12:32 pm
Robert Brooks (left), Robin Vos and Dan Feyen on Monday unveiled a funding plan for American Family Field.

Robert Brooks (left), Robin Vos and Dan Feyen on Monday unveiled a funding plan for American Family Field.

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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11 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Robin Vos Sticks It To Milwaukee”

  1. Bill Werner says:

    Thank you, Bruce, for this concise history and clear, alarming, explanation of the latest scheme to bleed Milwaukee and Milwaukee Country for the benefit of the Brewers. TYour report can serve as the definitive guide to this sorry scheme.

  2. lccfccoop2 says:

    Thank heavens you and Urban Milwaukee are here. Yours is the only serious voice outside the unrelenting boosterism heard on non print media and the slightly more muted boosterism of the Milwaukee J-S

  3. msmrecek says:

    Great article. I’m outraged by the republicans in WI. It unreal that they shot down Ever’s proposal to stiff Milwaukee County. Its completely outrageous. I think a private business should be able to fund itself but if they need government support then the 5 county area should be responsible for subsidies not only Milwaukee.

  4. Duane says:

    The problems with professional sports would be solved if the communities actually had partial ownership (equity) of the franchise. But of course then they would have the financial benefits of ownership and that is not allowed under current rules of ownership which only benefit a select few. (The exception to this rule would be the Packers but even there the community financial benefit is somewhat muted). Pro sports is massive obvious gaslighting.

  5. mr_cox says:

    This was eye-opening:

    “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.”

    First time I’ve been disappointed by Tony Evers. ‘Foxconn Vos’ is disappointing, as usual. This reads like one-upmanship by both sides using taxpayer dollars for votes. Since Evers has demonstrated sound strategic maneuvering in the past, I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt that had the amount not been increased, the city’s/county’s negotiating position with The Brewers organization and the state would have been weakened.

    This is looking like a situation that cannot be satisfactorily resolved for the taxpayers. It’s time for brinksmanship: the governor should veto all unfair deals. Knuckle Vos under. The worst outcome is the team leaves, the state is on the hook for an empty stadium and unproductive land, loses player income taxes, and, if Evers maneuvers as well as in the past, takes the blame for the losses.

  6. mr_cox says:

    And, yes, thank you, Bruce, for another beautifully-researched and reported story.

  7. mkwagner says:

    Vos will do whatever he can to stick it to Milwaukee. Vos acts like he has a divine right to financial drain Milwaukee despite the negative ramifications that has on the rest of the state.
    Vos is no longer just a fascist, he’s a medieval liege lord demanding total allegiance from his Milwaukee vassals or else.

  8. Maryg says:

    I will need to return to this article as I got mad as soon as I read the first few sentences…Vos is dangerous to our town’s future…

  9. ZeeManMke says:


    That is a good question. Mr. Vos is taking the heat while Mr. Attanasio is nowhere to be seen. Why?
    What is his history in business? A puff piece in the September 19, 2023 Journal-Sentinel asks: “How did Mark Attanasio make his money?” The answer? “Attanasio is the co-founder of Crescent Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based global alternative investment firm….”

    This conveniently leaves out Attanasio’s role as a senior vice president at “Junk Bond” king Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. when it collapsed in 1990. At that time, this was one of the most infamous bankruptcies in U.S. history. After years of investigations, Drexel plead guilty to six felonies and paid a $650 million fine. Michael R. Milken, the face of Drexel’s junk bond schemes, also plead guilty to six felonies, spent two years in prison and was assessed a $600 million fine. Attanasio was not charged with any crimes and there is nothing to show he knew of or had any connection to what Drexel was up to. But he was there. But that is not all.

    As reported by the New York Times on Feb. 6, 2005, former Drexel employees went on to making even more money, like “former Drexel trader Gary Winnick, who founded Global Crossing, the onetime telecom giant that imploded under a mountain of debt in January 2002. Mr. Winnick cashed in more than $700 million in stock before the firm went belly up.”

    According to a Global Crossing Form 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for fiscal year 2002:

    “During the first quarter of 2002, the members of the compensation committee
    of our board of directors were Geoffrey Kent, Mark Attanasio and William Cohen.
    After these individuals resigned from our board of directors in connection with
    our bankruptcy filing.” Global Crossing’s bankruptcy court filing showed $12 billion in debt.

    A common theme between the Drexel and Global Crossing bankruptcies was using other people’s money to get rich and leaving them holding the bag. Is it legal? Yes. Does it sound familiar to you? Yes.

  10. AttyDanAdams says:

    Great article Bruce! Gov. Evers should start the negotiations back at square one (whether or not we should be contributing any further funding – lease be damned) and work up from there. Call their bluff on the idea that the Brewers will move to greener pastures.

  11. robertm60a3 says:

    Why aren’t we reading this sort of “factual” reporting in all the newspapers?

    Why don’t those running for office provide some details? Instead, we receive e-mails and letters asking for MONEY for this campaign or that with I’m just . . .

    I really believe that the people in the United States are smarter than those in government think we are. Yet, there is a group that is voting for Trump (who should be in jail) or Biden (who should be retired and perhaps in jail). Don’t we have better?

    Robin Vos and Tony Evers, is there anyone that I can believe in?

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