MILWAUKEE - There's a long and expensive list of repairs needed at American Family Field, and on Monday, Sept. 18, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other members of the Republican Legislature revealed their funding plan for the Brewers.
The Brewers' current lease expires in 2030. But that lease says the governmental body that owns the stadium is to pay for capitol improvements and repairs.
"We currently do not have enough funds in those accounts to maintain our contractual obligation and could be in default as soon as next year. Therefore, we needed to do something sooner rather than later," said State Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville).
Wisconsin Republicans offer plan to fund American Family Field repairs
A Brewers-commissioned study found the total price tag for repairs was $428 million. From leaky roofs to splitting concrete and boilers and circuit breakers reaching their expected life spans.
"I’m here to talk about how great we are that we have another step closer to being here through 2050. So, I’m not going to debate or talk about default. I’m not going to talk about leaving. I’m talking about the fact that this is a pathway for us to be here for the next generation. I’m really excited about it," said Rick Schlesinger, Brewers President of Business Operations.
At a news conference inside American Family Field, Republican lawmakers announced that the proposal would keep the Brewers in Milwaukee through 2050. The proposal calls for the state to pay $400 million over the course of the lease. It is based on estimated income tax Major League Baseball brings to the state. The Republicans say with their proposal, no taxes will be raised.
"Our annual investment from the state is tied directly to a portion of player personnel -- of both the home team and visiting team," said State Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville). "If you don't play second base for the Brewers or the Cubs or the Yankees, your income taxes are not going to this deal."
The deal also requires a $200 million plus contribution from Milwaukee -- city and county.
Republicans also say the deal changes the Stadium Board makeup to focus more on people that have an interest in how to operate a stadium.
One of the big items in the Republican plan is winterizing the ballpark.
"This venue will be a year-round facility that could be used for monster truck shows, concerts, whatever it may be, which will generate additional tax revenue," Brooks said.
State Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville)
Rep. Brooks said the winterizing should allow the ballpark to maintain 70°F even when it's -10°F outside.
Republicans asked the Brewers contribute an additional $140 million in addition to current rent and other capital investments – and the team has agreed to this stipulation.
For the people who want to know how places like Eau Claire and Spooner benefit from the Brewers staying in Wisconsin, Brooks said with the new shared revenue formula, 1% of all sales at American Family Field will go to every community in the state.
"Again, it's cheaper to keep them," Brooks said.
"The state of Wisconsin owns this facility, if the Brewers leave, we will continue to own this facility and the taxpayers are on the hook, whether we like it or not. So it is a better deal for the taxpayer. Whether you ever come to a Brewers game or you ever come to a concert at this venue, it is definitely better for the taxpayer to have revenue being generated here to keep the team and all the economic benefits," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Racine).
"This bill is a bill that will keep professional baseball in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, until at least 2050. We will be utilizing income generated from the players who play at American Family Field and the Brewers front office staff. All payments made, will be made to the Stadium District to maintain this ballpark. It is estimated that the income tax generated at this ballpark in 2023 will be $12.8 million, accounting for a $12.8 million contribution from the state to the Stadium District in 2023. Additional yearly payments at 4% growth, so that in 2035, the income tax will exceed $20 million per year," said State Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac).
State Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac)
In March, Governor Tony Evers proposed a plan where the state would spend $290 million for stadium repairs, and the Brewers would extend their lease through 2043. Republicans struck that down and plan to reveal their stadium funding package Monday.
"The Brewers have said all along that it will take creative, bipartisan solutions to keep Major League Baseball in Wisconsin for the next generation. Today’s proposal from Republicans in the legislature, along with an earlier plan by Governor Evers, shows that there is true consensus across party lines for a solution to extend the life of American Family Field.
"With a $2.5 billion statewide economic impact that supports thousands of jobs, maintaining a first-rate ballpark is crucial for the Brewers to compete and Major League Baseball to remain viable in Wisconsin. It is important that we build on this momentum and focus on a plan that keeps America’s favorite pastime here in Wisconsin.
"We oppose the return of the five-county tax, and we are prepared to commit to a generational lease extension for the Brewers to remain at American Family Field."
Britt Cudaback, Communications Director, Office of Governor Tony Evers
"While it’s good to hear Republicans are getting serious about keeping Major League Baseball in Wisconsin, it’s unfortunate Republicans rejected Gov. Evers’ commonsense proposal that ultimately would’ve saved taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run.
"Gov. Evers looks forward to reviewing Republicans’ proposal and continuing conversations on a plan that provides additional flexibility and minimizes harm for local partners while ensuring we keep this important economic driver and thousands of jobs in our state."
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley
"The Milwaukee Brewers are an important asset for our community. While I have yet to see the proposed legislation announced today, I look forward to discussions with partners in the Wisconsin State Legislature and I am willing to work with them to find a common ground, bipartisan solution. However, it is important to recognize Milwaukee County is still facing a significant fiscal deficit over the next several years. Any new proposal by the State of Wisconsin must recognize that reality. I look forward to discussions with our State partners to identify a path forward that allows Milwaukee and the state to retain the Brewers, while providing Milwaukee County the resources to support our residents and communities in the years ahead."
Tim Sheehy, Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District chair
"The state legislation to fund a lease extension introduced today by Rep. Robert Brooks, and Sen. Dan Feyen is a solid hit up the middle to ensure that greater Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin continue to grow with the asset of major league baseball. We respect and appreciate the leadership by Governor Evers and Speaker Vos to help put this proposal in play.
"The Brewers are a key part of the economic, marketing and quality-of-life assets represented by being home to professional sports, like the Bucks and Packers. These teams are part of our global brand, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact, provide thousands of jobs, while generating substantial tax revenue. We look forward to working with the legislature, governor, mayor and county executive to get this legislation in the best position to cross home plate."
Ryan Strnad, Managing Member/Lobbyist for Drinks In The Seats
"The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District should be expanded to include all 72 Wisconsin counties. The idea of tax dollars from the City of Milwaukee & Milwaukee County is ridiculous considering how they were just allowed to raise their respective sales taxes. All counties need to pay in some way!"
Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison)
"In February, Governor Evers put forward a fiscally responsible plan to utilize our historic surplus and keep the Brewers in Milwaukee. I remain committed to the Governor’s goal of ensuring the Brewers remain here in our state, however, the Republican plan put forward today falls short. While I am happy to sit down in a bipartisan manner to work out the details, any plan cannot place too great of a burden on the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.
"There are opportunities here for a bipartisan bill to keep the Brewers our home team, and I am hopeful we can get to a place where the legislation includes both Democratic and Republican support."
Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve Taylor
"I heard for months about a Brewers stadium proposal which sticks it to Milwaukee County taxpayers. With today’s announcement, it became a reality. Any financial contributions should come from the State and from the Brewers. What’s even more disappointing is that I believed Republicans stood for fiscal responsibility and protecting the taxpayers. This proposal cost taxpayers and the State more than double what Governor Evers wanted to spend.
"The Brewers proposed contribution is embarrassing and shows their lack of commitment to our community and its residents. This proposal is insulting to anyone with common sense and should be discarded. Time to go back to the drawing board or take it directly to the voters."
State Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee)
"The Republican plan to provide state and local money for maintenance and upgrades at American Family Field was the result of secret negotiations and deal-making behind closed doors.
"Speaker Robin Vos has reneged on his Shared Revenue deal and now wants to claw black $7.5 million annually—over $200 million total—from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee, just months after approving additional Shared Revenue for them. If Milwaukee was going to be on the hook for maintaining AmFam Field, we should have had this conversation during the Shared Revenue negotiation.
"I’m renewing my call for an audit and program evaluation of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau. The last time such an audit was performed was in 2002. The public and the Legislature need to have full confidence that no stone is left unturned before hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on a luxury product like a professional ballpark. I’ve asked repeatedly for an audit to be done only to be denied each time. Without a full accounting, and without the Brewers opening up their books for review, I cannot support this deal.
"It is totally fiscally irresponsible for us to make decisions about hundreds of millions of dollars without any independent verification. In 2020, when the 5-County Sales Tax finally sunsetted, the District assured the public that it had funds in escrow to maintain the stadium through 2040. A condition of ending the tax, put in place by board appointees from Governor Evers and his two predecessors, was settling all the bonds and earning the approval of the bonding authority. I want to know why so much additional taxpayer money is necessary to meet our previously satisfied obligations and extend the lifespan of the stadium. This bill contains no requirement that an audit be conducted by the Legislative Audit Bureau.
"It is in the interest of the Brewers—not the taxpayers—to negotiate this deal without making the details public. The Brewers need to open their books in good faith to provide verification and accountability on their part. It is not fair to the taxpayers of the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, and the state of Wisconsin for the deal to be negotiated in secret, and it undercuts a previously negotiated and settled deal to increase revenue for the local governments.
"My constituents want to see the Brewers stay, but they don’t want to be a piggy bank to be tapped by professional sports teams with no accounting or accountability.
"I am encouraged by the promise made during his press conference by Representative Rob Brooks to consider amendments. I look forward to working with the bill’s authors to find a solution that truly works for Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and the Brewers. If amendments are not considered in good faith, then this would be just one more broken promise."