No Tax $ For the Brewers

I love baseball. I sort of love the Milwaukee Brewers. I hate the extortion of taxpayers by professional sports teams.

And I’m surprised that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is enthusiastically behind the extortion. Yesterday he announced that he was going to blow $290 million of the state’s $7 billion projected surplus on renovations to American Family Field. Total costs of the sprucing up are estimated at $400 million and the press report doesn’t say where the rest of the money is coming from. But even if the Brewers are going to shell out $110 million, that’s not enough. It’s their physical plant. They should pay the whole bill for maintaining it.

Of course, if they don’t get the taxpayer handout they will threaten to leave. They may well go anyway at some point. Evers’ proposal will contain some language about a commitment to stay for 20 years, but how would that be enforced? My guess is that when we see the details of the budget that 20-year commitment will be a mirage. But even if the language is airtight the disincentive to go will almost certainly just be the requirement to pay back some of the money. It’s likely once the current group of bandits sells the team, the new owners will just move it to wherever they want. They will have paid billions of dollars for the team, so they’ll consider any penalty enforced by the state to be just the cost of doing business, and relative pocket change at that.

And what if the subsidy is rejected by the Legislature? The Brewers’ bluff will have been called. They might suck it up and foot the bill themselves or they might bolt. If that’s the case, let them go. A city does not need professional baseball to be successful. Austin, Portland, Charlotte, St. Paul, Boise, Nashville, Las Vegas and Columbus are just a few successful cities comparable in size to Milwaukee with no major league baseball team.

Not only is losing a ball club not the end of the world, it just means that millions of dollars in discretionary income will be spent elsewhere in the economy. Losing the Brewers could result in a more vibrant local music scene, more and better restaurants, maybe even a really fun and low cost Triple A franchise (see the St. Paul Saints) and more.

We haven’t heard from Speaker Robin Vos yet. He may be launching a spy balloon as we speak to check the political winds. Subsidies for pro sports teams are unpopular. When the Brewers’ stadium was built in the late 1990’s with taxpayer dollars the Democrats used that vote to take control of the State Senate by knocking off a Republican from Racine who voted for it. And referenda in Milwaukee for the Brewers and even in Green Bay for renovations to Lambeau Field passed narrowly and only after massive spending by the pro-payoff side. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also no secret that there is an anti-Milwaukee sentiment in the rest of the state. How is $290 million for the big city going to play in Potosi?

Evers justifies his proposal by essentially saying that it’s free money, only a fraction of the surplus. But nothing comes without a cost. This is $290 million that can’t be used for other purposes. For example, Evers touts his proposed 10% middle class income tax cut. The price tag for that is $400 million. So, with another $290 million he could cut taxes for the middle class by another 7%, making it a 17% tax cut.

Tony Evers wants to give L.A. billionaire Mark Attanasio $290 million of taxpayer money.

Instead he’s giving all that money to a billionaire hedge fund operator from Los Angeles. It’s no accident that the Brewers’ official comment on Evers’ plan came from a local guy in the front office and not from principle owner Mark Attanasio.

I don’t know. Maybe this is a stroke of political genius. Maybe Evers is squeezing Republicans between the rock of their big business donors in Milwaukee and the hard place of their rural populist voter base.

In any event, the politics are questionable at best. The public policy is a whiff. Evers needs to be sent to the showers over this one.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “No Tax $ For the Brewers

  1. Well, for once, I agree with you. However, money rules, so what are you going to do? Maybe that quarterback in Green Bay, what’s his name, Aaron something or another, can donate some of his money.


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