MILWAUKEE - Residents in southeast Wisconsin might be paying for the Miller Park stadium longer than they expected.
A 0.1 percent sales tax that supports the Milwaukee Brewers' ballpark was tentatively set to expire in 2014. But the tax may have to be extended though as late as 2017, according to a report presented Wednesday to the stadium district's board.
The sales tax was approved in 1995 to help pay for debt on the stadium project. Lawmakers at the time, relying on economic projections and trends from the 1980s and 1990s, expected the tax would fulfill the debt by 2014, said Mike Duckett, the stadium district's executive director.
But sales tax revenue of late has lagged expectations, meaning the remaining $244 million debt might not get fully paid off by 2014, he said.
"We have no control over this. We're totally at the mercy of tax revenue," Duckett said. "We're not borrowing any more money, we're not spending any more money, we're simply paying off the debt we incurred to build the park."
The stadium, which opened for the 2001 season, had a total price tag of $392 million, with about 23 percent of that coming from the Brewers and about 15 percent from state, county and city coffers. The remaining amount - about $250 million in principal plus another $257 million in interest - was to be covered by the sales tax imposed in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties.
But revenue growth from the sales tax has slowed in recent years, prompting financial advisers to suggest to the district board three possible scenarios for when the tax could be retired: in 2014 if the economy returns to the boom years of the late 1980s and early 1990s; in 2015 if economic factors are about average; and in 2017 if the current economic slowdown persists.
Given the present state of economic affairs, it's not surprising that the tax may have to be extended, said Dale Knapp, a research director with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance in Madison.
"These kinds of things can happen, especially when you're projecting something out over a long period of time," Knapp said. "As long as it's just 'here's what we projected, revenues aren't coming in as fast as we thought,' I don't really think there should be a concern."
But two state lawmakers said the tax should have some fixed expiration date instead of remaining open-ended.
A bill proposed in the state Senate by Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and in the Assembly by Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, would prevent the stadium district from receiving any more tax revenue after 2014. On Wednesday, Vos told The Associated Press he would be willing to compromise on the ending year, as long as some fixed deadline is imposed.
"Promises were made that the sales tax would end in 2014 or sooner. Now they're saying it will go longer," he said. "I'm open to negotiating what the ending date will be, but I at least want to be able to tell taxpayers this is end date."
On the Net:
Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District: http://www.millerparkdistrict.com/