by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
October 16, 2023

The Wisconsin Assembly will vote this week on a slightly modified plan for funding renovations of American Family Field and keeping the Milwaukee Brewers in the city through 2050. 

The changes to the bills — including a reduction in required contributions  from Milwaukee and Milwaukee County — were adopted last week during an Assembly State Affairs committee executive session. 

Republicans’ original plan for funding the stadium maintenance and renovation included a contribution of $411 million from the state, about $200 million from the city and county of Milwaukee and $100 million from the Brewers. The bills — AB 438 and AB 439 — also include a requirement to spend $25 million on winterizing the stadium and changing the makeup of the district’s governing board.

Republican lawmakers have insisted that a local contribution is essential to the deal and had suggested that the new sales taxes for the city and county, which were adopted to ensure that public safety and pension obligations were paid for, could help them afford the costs. Milwaukee leaders had said they were concerned about the costs and the expected use of the sales tax to pay for it.

The amendments, introduced by co-author Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville), are meant to address those concerns by cutting the county’s required contribution from $5 million to $2.5 million annually for the next 27 years. It also includes a reduction in the amount the city of Milwaukee pays the state in administrative fees on the city’s new sales tax to cover its portion of the payments, which is also $2.5 million. According to a city document obtained by Fox 6, city local officials say that the new deal will have “no detrimental impact on the city of Milwaukee’s annual budget.”

Another addition to the bill is the requirements of a report on developing the property surrounding the stadium for non-baseball uses. 

The changes bring the local contributions to the deal to $135 million total and the overall total of public funds for the deal to $546 million. 

The changes have helped garner additional support for the plan, including from Milwaukee lawmakers who had expressed concerns about the proposed costs to the city and county at the public hearing on the bills. The Assembly State Affairs committee approved the updated bills in an 11-1 vote. 

“I said from the start, if there was not a fix on the Milwaukee issue, I cannot support this bill,” Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) said last week. “I am very pleased with the amendment. It makes Milwaukee and Milwaukee County whole, gives them a buffer, gives them a little extra tax money.” 

Some Democrats approved of the changes, but still had concerns about the deal as a whole.

Rep. Marisabel Cabrera (D-Milwaukee), who voted in favor of the bill, said she is not 100% enthusiastic about the current deal and she thought statements made by Evers have hindered negotiations. She said she still thinks they could have gotten to a deal that more Democrats would support.

Cabrera said, however, that her “No. 1 concern was making sure that Milwaukee wasn’t going to have to somehow cut back on services to make their contribution.” She said that was addressed through the amendments. 

Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison), the only lawmaker against the bill, said she was appreciative of the deal no longer having a net loss for the county and the city, but she thinks the public deserves a better return and better deal for the massive use of public money required in the deal. 

“My “no” vote is the fact that this is a public investment and the return can be greater for the public, not just for Milwaukee County, but for the rest of the state, and those taxpayers.” 

The changed plan has gathered support from other key stakeholders. 

Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudabeck told the Associated Press in an email last week that Evers supports the plan, and said it is “a compromise that ensures the Milwaukee Brewers and Major League Baseball remain in Wisconsin for future generations.”

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson declared his support for the plan in a statement, saying that he wants “the Brewers to be our home team for the indefinite future” and “local taxpayers to be protected from excessive costs.” He said the recent changes accomplish those goals. 

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said in a statement he was pleased with the progress on the plan and that he is looking forward to continued negotiations, including in the Senate. 

“While we’ve secured a positive agreement in the Wisconsin State Assembly, I now look ahead to engaging with members of the State Senate on a path forward,” Crowley said. “My main priority has not changed: To deliver a bipartisan solution that allows Milwaukee and the state to retain the Brewers, while providing Milwaukee County with additional resources to support our residents and communities in the years ahead.” 

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on the bills Tuesday. If the bill passes the Assembly this week, it will go to the Senate next for consideration, where there could be more disagreement and potential changes to the deal.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) issued a statement against the deal last week, and said Wisconsin taxpayers were being “forced to funnel” money towards a deal that provides little return to most taxpayers

“Even worse, this massive deal just sets the state up to spend more at the end of the lease when it comes time to fund a brand new $1 billion-plus stadium project,” Nass said.

Nass accused Assembly Republican leadership of caving to the “demands from Milwaukee city and county officials by giving them even more flexibility with their new local option sales tax that Republicans gave away earlier this year as part of the state budget process.” He said the current winners in the “rushed deal” are the Brewers, the City and County of Milwaukee, Gov. Evers, Wisconsin Democrats and “powerful” special interests. 

Nass suggested that if Republican leaders believe a Brewers deal must pass, then a tax cut should be included in the legislation. He said he would be prepared to offer an amendment that would insert Republicans’ $2.9 billion tax cut package, which has faced a veto threat by Evers, into the legislation and that Republicans revived on Friday, substituting it for Evers’ comprehensive child care and workforce proposals during a debate on that package.

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