RACINE COUNTY — A group of Racine-area legislators are fighting the county’s Miller Park sales tax to the bitter end.
Eighteen years after the taxing district was created to pay for the construction of a new Milwaukee Brewers stadium, local lawmakers have proposed a bill removing Racine County from the district.
The measure is mostly symbolic. State Rep. Cory Mason, who also brought the proposal forward in 2011, said the issue is seen as a regional one and hasn’t gained much traction in the Legislature.
“It’s difficult to build broad support for it,” said Mason, D-Racine, whose first political activism was protesting the tax in 1996.
But the debate over how much southeastern Wisconsin counties should be involved in Milwaukee sports stadiums has received renewed attention as the Milwaukee Bucks explore ways to finance a new arena.
The fear for Racine County leaders is that the Miller Park district could be extended for the Bucks, said state Rep. Thomas Weatherston, R-Caledonia. Such a move would require state legislation.
“What Cory and I both worry about is if (the taxing district) continues, and there’s a new basketball arena, we’re going to be paying for that,” said Weatherston, who is also sponsoring the bill. “Enough is enough.”
The bill is also co-sponsored by state Sens. John Lehman, D-Racine, and Bob Wirch, D-Somers.
In 1996, the state Legislature approved a 0.1 percent sales tax to help fund construction of the new Milwaukee Brewers stadium, which opened in 2001. The sales tax was put into effect for five southeastern Wisconsin counties — Racine, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington.
State Sen. George Petak, R-Racine, who cast the deciding vote, was famously recalled. But the tax remains, bringing Racine County’s sales tax up from 5 percent to 5.1 percent.
Mason argued the stadium has “little to no economic benefit” in Racine County. He said he would rather see that Racine County money go toward property tax relief and “let the remainder of the district figure out how to extricate themselves” from the tax.
He also noted the retirement of the tax district has been pushed back to between 2016 and 2020. Earlier projections had the tax ending in 2014.
“I think it’s a fair question for Racine residents to ask” how long the tax will continue, Mason said.
Mike Duckett, executive director of the Miller Park stadium district, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Racine County has come out strong against paying for the Bucks arena as well. Though a regional tax has not yet been proposed or even seriously discussed, the County Board unanimously passed a resolution opposing such a tax, and legislators of both parties have taken strong stances against it.