Jeramey Jannene

Council, Mayor Bickered On Brewers Deal

Council president said no more than $1 million, mayor said council was undermining city's negotiating position.

By - Nov 29th, 2023 09:26 am
American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The negotiation to keep the Milwaukee Brewers in the state for several more decades was not only a delicate dance in the State Capitol, it was also a contested issue within Milwaukee City Hall.

The subsidy deal is now done, and city officials indicate they’re happy with the local portion of the $600 million bargain. But three months ago, before the deal was even publicly unveiled, they were pointing fingers at each other internally.

On Aug. 31, Common Council President José G. Pérez sent a letter to Mayor Cavalier Johnson drawing a clear line in the sand. “After many conversations with my colleagues, it has been made abundantly clear that this body will not support any cost-share that exceeds $1 million from the city,” wrote Pérez.

During a council meeting the next morning, Alderman Robert Bauman said the then-private discussions involved the city giving up $2.5 million annually. “I think the sentiment of the body is there should be no subsidy coming from the city, and as we speak, the mayor is negotiating a subsidy of $2.5 million more or less coming from the city,” said the alderman.

The mayor wasn’t happy.

In a letter to Pérez, Johnson said the city was only at the bargaining table because of the work he and the administration’s lobbying team had done on Act 12 and other matters, and the Legislature could take the money from the city without its approval.

“Keeping this in mind, and with the taxpayers of this city as my primary interest, I respectfully disagree with limiting our negotiations to a finite dollar amount,” wrote Johnson. “I am not approaching this effort in a one-dimensional way. It is likely in our negotiations that additional multi-dimensional approaches will deliver far superior results.”

Johnson said an effort to keep the city’s strategy private was harmed by the public discussion and that he was clear with Pérez on his preference for no local contribution. “I expressed this very point to you in a meeting just hours before you sent this letter,” wrote Johnson.

On Sept. 18, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos unveiled a deal that included $2.5 million annually from the city and $5 million from the county. It also included the provision that if the local governments didn’t approve their shares, the state would take it from their shared revenue payments.

By early October, private discussions between the city and legislators had resulted in a public pronouncement by Republican legislators that the local contribution was likely to be cut.

On Oct. 12, an Assembly committee endorsed a revised plan that used some of the 1.75% administrative fee from the city’s newly-awarded sales tax to pay for the city share. Because of a budget veto from Governor Tony Evers, the amount was otherwise to go to an escrow fund.

A final deal was approved on Nov. 14.

“I think we got a better deal in the sense that it’s coming from the administrative fee,” said Pérez in an interview. “It’s not coming out of budget, not out of our shared revenue. I believe that because of that it’s a much better deal.”

Pérez said he believed his letter positively moved the discussion in the city’s favor.

The fracture on the Brewers deal is part of a larger disagreement on city lobbying. In the wake of the Act 12 debate, the council moved to take more control of the process, including the city’s explicit legislative package.

Bauman’s comments about the $2.5 million bargain came during a floor debate where the council formally created the Division of Legislative Affairs to manage its now two-member lobbying team. The mayor still maintains a two-person team of his own. According to the proposal, both are to work from a council-approved legislative package with the mayor’s appointee, former alderman Jim Bohl, directing the city’s lobbying activities, but not its positions.

Johnson returned the legislation unsigned, allowing it to go into effect while expressing his opposition. Siding with a city attorney’s opinion, Johnson said it was contrary to a state statute that said the administration lobbyist was in charge of directing any lobbying effort. Pérez and Bauman said the council’s change followed state statute because the “director directs” lobbying activities as the statute requires, but based on policy decisions decided by both the council and mayor. .

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Related Legislation: File 230358

Categories: Politics

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