Is Shared Revenue Deal About Brewers Stadium?

Stop the presses! (Okay, there are no presses. Don’t press “publish”!)

Yesterday we witnessed an example of bipartisan cooperation on an important issue. At a press conference in Milwaukee Republican legislative leaders Robin Vos and Devin LaMehieu joined the Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee, Cavalier Johnson, and the Milwaukee County Executive, David Crowley, to announce a plan to provide more state money to local governments.

It wasn’t perfect. Gov. Tony Evers was excluded from the negotiations and wasn’t invited to the press conference. He and Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer said only that they would have to study the details of the plan when they are available. Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Agard made an oddly hyperbolic partisan comment, claiming that Republicans were “playing games.” No, when you get the Democratic leaders of the state’s biggest city and largest county on board with a plan, that’s no game, but there may be something else going on here.

It was clear that Vos and LaMehieu wanted Democratic support for their proposal because they negotiated with Johnson and Crowley to get to this stage. They had no reason to even talk to them since they have the votes to pass anything they want, and in many parts of the state doing anything for Milwaukee is actually a political loser.

So, why did they do it? It could be that part of the deal will be that some of those new revenues will go to a refurbished stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers. Vos has rejected Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to spend $290 million of the state’s $7 billion surplus on the stadium and has set up a committee to come up with a better deal. I’ve always suspected that that “better deal” would mean some share of the costs coming from Milwaukee area taxpayers. Since Vos has said that a new sales tax to pay for the stadium rehab is off the table, this could be a back door way to do essentially that. Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee would be authorized to increase their sales taxes under this proposal, something not allowed for any other local government.

But even if I’m right about this (and I oppose any public money going into AmFam Field) the overall proposal is a good thing. Shared revenues have been frozen, when they haven’t been cut, for thirty years. The whole idea behind the state income tax, when it was enacted in 1911, was to provide a more progressive alternative to the local property tax. Back then 90% of the revenues went back to local governments. Today it’s less than 5%.

This proposal would provide a minimum of a 10% boost to local governments — the exact distribution formula hasn’t been worked out — and it would link the overall amount for shared revenues to 20% of the state sales tax. That’s important because it wouldn’t leave every year’s allocation up to the whims of the Legislature.

There is a requirement that the new money be spent on basic services, like police, fire, streets and the like. That’s a good way to sell the proposal to legislators, but in truth it won’t mean much as local governments can just move money around to end up spending it on anything they want.

I hope this isn’t a back door into funding the Brewers’ stadium costs, but even if it is the good it will do for every local government in the state and the fact that it was negotiated on a bipartisan basis are reasons to cheer.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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