'It was worth it:' Former senator reflects on Miller Park stadium tax vote

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Governor Tony Evers signed a bill into law to formally end the Miller Park stadium tax.

The 0.1 percent sales tax has been in place since 1996 in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha and Ozaukee counties and has collected about $600 million to help finance the construction of the Brewers’ home stadium.

The bill signed Wednesday, Nov. 20 sets a hard date of Aug. 31, 2020 for the tax to end. However, some projections indicate that the tax will no longer be needed after March. Should that be the case, any funds collected between that time will be distributed to the five counties affected by the tax.

The decision to implement the tax in the mid-nineties was met with opposition and fervent debate. The Brewers organization wanted to replace the old County Stadium but could not afford it alone. The idea to use public funds to finance the project was then put in the hands of the state Legislature.

It all culminated to a debate that lasted 16 hours in the state Senate. Ultimately, it came down to one vote which was cast by then-state Senator George Petak of Racine.

“I didn’t like the tax when we first initiated it,” Petak told CBS 58. “But I also didn’t like the thought the Brewers might be leaving town.”

Petak’s vote, however, came at a major cost.

The following year, he became the first lawmaker in state history to lose a recall election. That recall campaign was based solely on Petak’s vote to implement the tax.

“It was worth it, frankly,” Petak said, reflecting on the decision. “I wouldn’t wish a recall election on anyone, but we went through that because we cast the right vote.”

Today, Petak is a Senior Business and Community Engagement Officer for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

Even though the decision to vote for the tax cost Petak his seat in the Senate, he says he does not regret it.

“I’m just delighted to have had a role in keeping the Brewers here and having Miller Park to enjoy with my family and so many others,” Petak said. “It’s very rewarding.”

Petak said he is confident the Brewers will soon raise a World Series trophy in the stadium that he helped put into place.

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