Some Wisconsin state lawmakers want to cut off the five-county sales tax paying down Miller Park debt — but aren’t suggesting a replacement for the revenue stream.
The .1 percent sales tax collected in five counties — Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee and Racine — was controversial from the start. It led to a state senator being recalled in a special election, and it’s led to a series of legislators — particularly those representing Racine County — elected with a promise to end the sales tax ASAP.
The problem with ending the sales tax ASAP: there is still $195 million in ballpark debt, which has been paid off more slowly than anticipated because the economy in the five counties didn’t rise 5.5 percent yearly, as projected. And without that growth, sales-tax collections have been slower than anticipated. From WUWM.com:
Kristy Kreklow, the stadium district’s finance manager, says planners originally thought they could retire the additional sales tax in 2014….
Kreklow says the district now projects the tax will stay in place until at least 2018, and possibly longer.
“When we have the money for the future debt payments and obligations, that’s when we can sunset the sales tax,” she says.
There is a lot of hot air blowing in the Wisconsin State Capitol over this issue on both sides of the aisle: Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Caledonia) wants to see an audit of where sales-tax money was spent, even though the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District posts its financial reports online. He’s also railing against unelected officials on the park board, although they are all appointed by the governor — and in this case, all appointed by Gov. Scott Walker — and local officials in all five counties.
Really, this battle isn’t over Miller Park and the local sales tax: it makes no financial sense to cut off the sales tax when there’s still debt on the home of the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s really the opening volley in the inevitable debate over public financing of a new downtown Milwaukee Bucks arena — which should be a interesting battle between business and Tea Party interests in the Wisconsin Republican party.