Earlier this month, Republican lawmakers in the Wisconsin Legislature announced a $614 million plan to renovate the Milwaukee Brewers’ baseball stadium, and the result would place a heavy burden on taxpayers.
Under the bill, the Brewers would contribute about $100 million dollars to the renovations, while the rest of the funding would be split between the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. In exchange for the funding and renovations, the Brewers would extend their lease at American Family Field until 2050, satisfying lawmakers’ desire to keep major league baseball in Milwaukee.
American Family Field creates jobs and generates revenue for the state, which makes establishing a plan for the Brewers to remain at American Family Field a pressing topic for the state government.
The proposed bill aims to winterize the stadium and allow it to be visited year round, creating an even greater desire for lawmakers to keep the team in its home city. However, if this public money plan reflects the desires of Republicans, it utterly ignores the desires of the people who would be paying the cost.
In Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ announcement of the plan at a stadium news conference, he claimed baseball generates enough tax money so that no new taxes would be imposed.
But J.C. Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University, countered this claim. He told the Cap Times that Wisconsin would lose out on the revenue diverted to pay for the stadium.
Although lawmakers emphasized the revenue that would be generated from winterizing the stadium, Bradbury said the economic return from funding stadiums is actually much worse than the financial burden placed on local communities over time.
Further, a memo attached to the bill by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau asserted that stadium funding would come from an income tax, and future alterations to this tax creates uncertainty regarding the amount of revenue that will be devoted.
It explains that income tax revenue is expected to grow by 2050, which could potentially raise the funding allocated to the stadium. But it also notes that if lawmakers reduce the income tax over the coming years, there’s a chance the funding may decrease.
Research alludes to the fact that the justifications for this bill are illogical, and without further research, devoting $614 million toward an unreliable plan that will likely result in taxpayers losing money is an irresponsible use of public funding.
For this bill to be passed, it must be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. He recently proposed a plan to draw $300 million from the state's $7 billion surplus to give to the Brewers and extend their lease until 2043. Although this plan would have reduced the burden on taxpayers, it was struck down by the Republican-controlled Legislature out of desire for securing a longer lease.
Their incentive for this is that substantial renovations to the stadium could prevent the team from opting to move out of Milwaukee in the future, and the lease extension could lead the team toward a partnership with the state, rather than its current agreement with the stadium.
Although both major parties within the state government share the same goal of maintaining the Brewers’ team in Milwaukee, it is clear the issue extends beyond economics and is largely politicized. In response to the new bill, Democratic politicians such as Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and state Sen. Tim Carpenter have outwardly expressed their disapproval and concern for the potential burden on local taxpayers.
While Democrats tend to favor an amended version of the bill that corresponds more closely with Evers’ proposal, Republicans are more interested in devoting more money at the cost of residents to solidify a longer lease. In spite of this debate, a compromise will need to be made because the bipartisan end goal is shared.
Additionally, the people of Milwaukee have shown their clear disapproval for this plan.
When the stadium was first built in 2001, the $392 million project and 0.1% sales tax to carry out the funding caused massive controversy, ultimately resulting in a recall of state Sen. George Petak. Lawmakers imposed this tax on Milwaukee County along with four surrounding counties, with the sum of the tax money being around $605 million by the time the tax ended in 2020. The Republican lawmakers’ desire to impose a similar, long-term tax just after the completion of the previous five-county tax shows that the interest of the people is not at all being considered.
A recent poll of Milwaukee residents shows 56% oppose the proposed bill, only 25% approve and the rest are unsure. Taxpayers have made it clear that they don’t want their money going into funding the stadium, and the government should come up with a solution that balances their desire to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee while also supporting the wants of the people.
It is crucial that this bill be amended to more closely correspond with Evers' proposal of less funding drawn from taxpayers. Even if this means a slightly shorter lease, this would still benefit the government, as it would allow for more time to develop a long-term solution in the coming years. This would also leave more room for funding in other areas.
Earlier this year, Evers proposed an idea for the upcoming 2023-25 state budget to establish a research team to assist local governments in receiving state and federal grants. However, the Republican-controlled state budget-writing committee rejected the plan before it even reached the Legislature.
Local Wisconsin communities would benefit substantially from greater funding and assistance. This could allow the Milwaukee County supervisors to adopt favorable proposals such as County Executive David Crowley’s suggestion for a $21 million fund toward a Milwaukee community-based mental health and substance abuse program.
It’s time for the state government to pass legislation and put funding towards areas that benefit communities and coincide with the peoples’ best interests rather than focusing on enhancing their own agendas.
Mia Shapiro is a sophomore studying political science. Do you agree taxpayers will feel an unfair burden with this new stadium plan? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org