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- Under an early stadium funding proposal, $135 million from the county would have been spread out over 27 years — not in a single payment as the statement could suggest.
- In any case, the funding for the stadium is not directly tied to the county’s transportation budget.
- And hearing transcripts indicate the Brewers weren’t complaining about lack of transit to the stadium.
The state Legislature is searching for a way to pay for stadium upgrades the Milwaukee Brewers say they need to remain in Milwaukee — all of which call for significant money from Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee.
On Oct. 17, a $546 million plan passed the state Assembly, and appears to be on the way to passage in the state Senate — and then would go to Gov. Tony Evers, who has signaled his support.
Before all of that is settled, we wanted to examine a claim that stems from testimony by Rick Schlesinger, Brewers president of operations, during an Oct. 5 hearing on an earlier version of a funding plan. Specifically, this tweet from state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, caught our attention:
"Brewers are complaining about a lack of transit going to the ballpark at the same time as they are testifying in favor (of) taking $135 million away from Milwaukee County, which funds transit, is pretty tone deaf. Read the room, guys."
The funding would go toward repairs and any major capital expenditures the stadium would need during the course of the lease, which would end in 2050. It would not go to player salaries. In return, the Brewers committed to putting in $100 million toward renovations and repairs, and to stay in Milwaukee until the lease ends.
Complaining about government money and professional sports franchises, who ever heard of such a thing?
But are the Brewers complaining about transit even as they seek money from the county?
When we reached out to Larson’s office seeking backup, it responded with links to the public hearing, legislative documents related to the bill and a page on a state website listing lobbyists.
The Brewers are in favor of the legislation being proposed to help fund the stadium. Schlesinger was there to testify in favor of it and on the Wisconsin Ethics Commission lobbying website, the Brewers are listed as being in favor of the legislation.
But that’s not really in dispute, nor is it a central part of Larson’s claim.
Although the proposal has changed, at the time of the statement, the proposal was for the county to pay $5 million a year until the end of the lease in 2050. That tallies $135 million.
(In the current proposal being taken up by the state Senate, the city and county are paying a combined $135 million during the course of the lease, half of the original total.)
We’ll also note that Larson’s statement may have left readers thinking it meant a lump-sum, upfront payment. But, again, the total was not really in dispute.
What Larsen was arguing goes to two key points: Whether the county money in question would come at the expense of transportation funding, and whether the Brewers were complaining about the lack of public transit to the stadium in the first place. He’s off on both points.
Milwaukee County does oversee and fund the Milwaukee County Transit System, but the legislation does not say the county money would come from the transportation budget.
In the same hearing, the author of the bill, state Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, noted that he — along with Evers, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley — don’t want services cut as a result of the stadium-funding measure.
"I never want to hear it said that we didn’t hire a police officer, we had to lay off a fireman, we had to cut any services in Milwaukee to pay for the Brewers," Brooks said at the hearing. "So, we have been negotiating on that premise ... I don’t want to see a pothole not filled, a road not fixed and somebody blame it on the Brewers."
The plan calls for the state-level taxpayer funds for the stadium to come out of the income tax generated from Brewers employees, including players, and visiting players who also pay income taxes when they are in Milwaukee, which would normally go to the state but instead would go to the ballpark.
The city and county each plan to pay $2.5 million a year for the stadium with the threat of reduced shared revenue if each didn’t pay in full. County spokesman Jonathan Fera said the legislation could actually help improve transit:
"The bill as passed by the Assembly would actually provide us opportunity to invest in additional capital projects that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise invest in, which could include transit, parks, and more."
During his testimony, Schlesinger addressed a key question — about whether land around the stadium could be used for development, which in turn could generate new tax revenue. He pointed out, accurately, that the Brewers do not own the land. The organization is a tenant on the state’s property which makes building on the property complicated.
He told the committee that the utility lines may need to be relocated, the tailgating experience could be impacted, the reduction of parking could lead to increased exit times after games and the state Transportation Department iis planning to widen the freeway "so we’re not sure of what our footprint is supposed to be or how many parking spots we’re going to have after that."
Then he said the line that Larson deemed a complaint:
"There’s no great public transit to our ballpark, which is not anybody’s fault, it’s a matter of tight budgets."
That was it.
So, even when talking about the lack of public transportation, Schlesinger says it "is not anybody’s fault." In our view, Larson’s claim that this was "complaining" distorts what was said.
Larson claimed the Brewers were "complaining about a lack of transit going to the ballpark at the same time as they are testifying in favor (of) taking $135 million away from Milwaukee County, which funds transit."
The tweet could be read to say the $135 million would be taken at once, not spread out over time. But that’s a quibble compared to two more important points:
Leaders say they want to make the contribution without service cuts. And the quote in question is far too mild to be described as "complaining about a lack of transit."
Our definition of Mostly False is "the statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression." That fits here.
Milwaukee Brewers lobbying page
Wisconsin state Legislature, Assembly Bill 438, Sept. 28, 2023
Wiscosim Assembly Committee on State Affairs, public hearing, Oct. 5, 2023
Wisconsin state Sen. Crhis Larson, D-Milwaukee, X post, Oct. 5, 2023
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