YORKVILLE — Racine County supervisors stirred up attention last week as board members unanimously voiced their opposition to any regional tax related to a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Following the resolution, local legislators have made their feelings known, and other county boards are making moves of their own; all this before an arena tax has even been proposed.
The board’s pre-emptive opposition echoes the battle against a long-running sales tax for Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, that’s currently projected to last at least four more years in Racine County.
The resolution, unanimously passed by the full board last Tuesday, is designed to pre-empt any discussion on including Racine County in a regional tax for a new Bucks arena, or other Milwaukee cultural amenities.
Summing up the board’s stance, Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig referenced comments from Tim Sheehy, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president, who has said that Racine County should recognize the regional economic impact a new arena could have.
“I do recognize it,” Ladwig said. “The problem is, (that impact) tends to flow one way, and that’s not toward us.”
The Journal Times and Sheehy were unable reach one another Friday, despite efforts on both ends to connect. MMAC is leading the discussion on how to fund a new arena for the Bucks, replacing the BMO Harris Bradley Center built in 1988.
In Washington County, Board Chairman Herb Tennies is taking his time, saying his board wants to “listen first, and get all the facts” before deciding whether to offer a resolution on the matter.
Waukesha County Chairman Paul Decker said: “We’re willing to listen, but we’re not in favor of any tax.” His board isn’t currently looking to formalize that opinion through a resolution, Decker said, but “we’ve let our legislators know our feelings.”
Meanwhile, the Ozaukee County Board is pursuing its own anti-tax resolution similar to Racine’s, according to media reports.
Across the board and across partisan lines, local lawmakers told The Journal Times they’d oppose any new regional taxation for a Milwaukee Bucks arena or other Milwaukee County cultural amenities.
Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he and other legislators still remember former state Sen. George Petak. The Racine-area Republican lost his seat in a June 4, 1996, recall election after his was the swing vote on the bill which created the Miller Park regional sales tax in October 1995. Petak has since said he thought his vote would keep the Brewers in Milwaukee.
“When somebody gets recalled, elected officials for a long time remember that,” Vos said Friday.
Vos has already spoken out against any potential taxation, vocally opposing the potential tax levy earlier this year.
Additionally, Vos was a supervisor on the Racine County Board when the Miller Park proposal first appeared.
“At the time, we had a lot of discussions about it,” Vos recalled. “I think almost everybody I knew — both Republican and Democrat — had serious concerns about a new tax.”
In January 1995, Vos and other board members voted to approve a resolution opposing the regional sales tax. Similar to their anti-arena argument today, board members at the time argued the stadium would benefit Milwaukee County and the Brewers at the expense of Racine County taxpayers.
Meanwhile, the existing 0.1 percent sales tax for Miller Park continues in Racine County.
The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District board projects that tax will continue until between 2017 and 2019, according to the board’s spring report. It was originally slated to last until 2014.
There are several variables in play, cautioned Douglas Stansil, former Racine County finance director and current appointee to that board.
The tax’s sunset “depends on, primarily, how much sales tax is being generated in the local economy,” Stansil said. It additionally depends on the kind of return the district gets on its investments, he said.
“The district is committed to getting the sales tax off as soon as possible,” Stansil said, “but two of the big factors are beyond the district’s control.”
Although the Racine County Board made its unanimous opposition clear, regional taxation for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena has not been formally proposed, and talks on the matter have yet to start.
That discussion officially begins in the next few weeks, led by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Racine County’s corporate counsel will represent the district in those discussions and reiterate board members’ opposition, should anyone formally float the idea of regional taxation, County Executive Jim Ladwig said.
WHERE THEY STAND
The Racine County Board’s resolution against taxation for a proposed Milwaukee Bucks arena basically acts as a recommendation to state legislators, who get the final say on a multicounty tax.
In light of the board’s resolution, The Journal Times asked our local legislators: if a regional tax for the Bucks arena or other Milwaukee cultural amenities came before the Legislature, how would you vote?
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha: The arena tax is certainly not a preferable course and we should be examining every other option possible.
Rep. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon: Whether it be attempts to use the tax base of Milwaukee suburbs to prop up a privately held business like the Milwaukee Bucks, or using area utility payers to fund Milwaukee’s trolley to nowhere, the time for the City of Milwaukee to stop using southeastern Wisconsin as a piggy bank has come. If the City of Milwaukee and Herb Kohl want a new arena, by all means they should do so — but with their own money. Under no circumstance will I vote for a tax increase to fund such a facility.
Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine: I strongly support the action from the Racine County Board, especially their noticing that they don’t want the Miller Park deal extended to finance anything else. I think we have to be on the lookout for that. ... So, I think this pre-emptive activity right now is really timely and a good move.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine: In the spring of 2011, I introduced a bill that would remove Racine County from the Miller Park taxing district. ... Racine’s families are struggling to find jobs; it is untenable to continue to ask them to pay for a sports stadium from which they see little benefit. I feel exactly the same way about a potential tax on Racine County residents for any renovations or reconstruction of the Bradley Center, where the Milwaukee Bucks play. If legislation comes before me attempting to tax Racine County residents for the Milwaukee Bucks’ stadium, I will oppose it and I will work hard to defeat it.
Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos, R-Rochester: Racine County will never be part of a tax for the Bucks if I have any say about it. I have already told the folks who are interested in it that if they want it, they have to showcase the local support for it way before they come to Madison, and I’m not even sure that support is there.
Rep. Tom Weatherston, R-Caledonia: The Racine County Board made the right call. I oppose a new tax that would require Racine County residents to pay for a Milwaukee arena or other such facility. I also believe that the Miller Park sales tax should be ended as soon as possible.
Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers: I voted against Miller Park because I didn’t like the tax mechanism, and for sure I would vote against the Bucks stadium. I’m all for a Bucks stadium; I don’t like regional taxes. I think that’s the wrong way to go about it.
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