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Top Senate Democrat joins calls for more tweaks to Brewers stadium funding deal

The proposal cleared Wisconsin's Assembly with bipartisan support — and some bipartisan opposition

Cars are parked in front of American Family Field on a sunny day.
Fans walk into American Family Field before the Brewers’ season opener against the Twins on Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin’s top Senate Democrat is joining calls for tweaks to a deal that would allocate $546 million in public funding to renovations at the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium.

Legislation that aims to keep the Major League Baseball team playing at Milwaukee’s American Family Field until at least 2050 cleared the state Assembly last month with bipartisan support.

The proposal has also faced bipartisan criticism, however, and it may take buy-in from some Democrats for the legislation to clear Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Senate.

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“Certainly there’s a lot of work that is being done on the bill,” Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard told Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” on Monday, adding that a Senate vote could happen Nov. 14 “if we can get it to a point where there’s bipartisan agreement.”

Senate Republicans hold a 22-11 supermajority, which means they can usually pass whatever they want. But it’s unclear whether enough GOP senators support the Brewers plan to pass it without help from Democrats.

“Sounds like their caucus isn’t even all the way on board,” Agard said of Republicans. “I would love it to be bipartisan.”

The Assembly voted 69-27 on Oct. 17 to use $411 million in state grants for stadium maintenance and improvements. Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee would contribute a combined $135 million. The Brewers would contribute at $100 million for the stadium repairs and agree to keep playing at the stadium for at least another 20 years after their current lease ends in 2030.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said he’d sign that version of the legislation, which cleared the Assembly with 47 Republicans and 22 Democrats in favor and 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats against.

But, before it gets to his desk, it needs to be approved by the state Senate, where Democrats may have some negotiating power in the Republican-led body.

“I would like to get to a point where we are excited about … voting yes for the Brewers stadium,” Agard said Monday. “We would like to see the amount that the state contributes to be lowered and to increase the amount that the team is putting in the pot, and ensuring that the city and the county of Milwaukee are not adversely impacted by this deal.”

Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers rejected a proposal from Evers to use $290 million from the state’s surplus for renovations at the 22-year-old stadium.

In September, Assembly Republicans introduced a bill that called for more about $610 million in funding, including $200 million from the city and county. After Milwaukee-area leaders said that price tag would be burdensome and unaffordable for the city and county, the plan’s chief sponsor, Rep. Robert Brooks. R-Saukville, introduced changes that cut back that local contribution.

Any additional amendments to the plan would need approval by both Wisconsin’s Assembly and Senate.

Sen. Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, has said he supports the version that passed Wisconsin’s Assembly, but he also told reporters ahead of an Oct. 25 hearing that Republicans were still short of enough Senate votes.

Lawmakers have discussed other amendments to the plan, including adding a tax on tickets for events other than Brewers games that are held at the stadium.