Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 29, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Amid growing concerns about delays, the state Senate now plans to take up a bill that would finally end the Miller Park Stadium sales tax for the five counties that have had the assessment forced on them more than 20 years ago.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) on Monday confirmed the tax sunset legislation will be voted on next week during the Senate’s Nov. 5 floor session.
That announcement comes after Empower Wisconsin’s story last week in which Capitol sources said delaying passage of the bill, authored by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine,) would unnecessarily extend the tax and divert the money, millions of dollars worth, to the state’s general fund.
On Monday, sources told Empower Wisconsin that Republican leadership responded to public and private frustration that the bill was being stalled at the request of interest groups like the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce. Fitzgerald earlier told Empower Wisconsin the bill would make it to the floor and pass “before the end of the session.”
But the end of the session, at least floor time, is March, which presents a taxing problem, sources say.
On March 10, the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball District is expected to certify that it has generated enough money to meet its financial obligations, to fund the construction of Milwaukee’s Miller Park baseball stadium and maintain its operations.
At that time, sources say, the state Department of Revenue no longer has the authority to collect the 0.1 percent sales tax that has been in place in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties since 1996.
But taxes are like zombies, or chickens with severed heads. They go on for a time after they’re dead.
The sales tax, under law, would have to wind down over 120 days, which would keep the tax going until July. July, however, is the beginning of a fiscal quarter. A tax cannot end until the fiscal quarter ends, so the Miller Park sales tax would be extended by default until the end of September, according to sources.
All the while, the tax revenue doesn’t go to the district, it doesn’t go to the local governments that authorized collections. It goes to the state’s general fund, where the money can effectively be used for anything the Legislature deems fit, sources say.
Passage next week could force the end of the tax by the end of March, as the Senate bill lays out. But June would be a more realistic timeline, sources say, because the Assembly bill concludes the tax in August. Republican leadership from both houses are expected to meet Tuesday to hammer out the final details on a unified bill.
The sales tax has pumped in more than a half billion dollars to fund the construction and operations of the home of Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers.