Wisconsin Republican says Brewers stadium funding plan dead

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FILE - Lennon Jones plays catch outside American Family Field before the Milwaukee Brewers' home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, April 14, 2022, in Milwaukee. A bipartisan coalition of Wisconsin business, tourism and health care leaders, former office holders and others announced Wednesday, March 8, 2023, that it means to keep the Milwaukee Brewers in the state. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin's top Republican said Wednesday that a plan put forward by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Milwaukee Brewers to spend nearly $300 million in taxpayer money on improvements to the stadium where the team plays was likely dead in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he hoped Republicans could devise a better deal that would look for a commitment from the team to remain in Milwaukee longer and not rely as heavily on money from a one-time budget surplus.

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Under the Evers plan, in exchange for the state spending $290 million on repairs, the Brewers' lease would be extended by 13 years, through 2043.

“I’m not sure the amount of time he’s asking the team to stay here is correct,” Vos told reporters. “I think the deal that he cut is not a very good one for the taxpayer.”

Evers' spokesperson Britt Cudaback expressed optimism that a deal could be reached.

“We remain hopeful Speaker Vos’ partisan theatrics will not get in the way of our deal to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee for another two decades,” Cudaback tweeted.

Evers and the team said they want to pay for the repairs by tapping part of the state's projected $7 billion budget surplus.

Earlier Wednesday, a coalition of Wisconsin business, tourism and health care leaders, former office holders and others announced that it is working to find a bipartisan solution to keep the Brewers in the state “for the next generation," said the group's leader, Omar Shaikh, a Milwaukee-area restaurant owner and developer.

“The Milwaukee Brewers are a point of pride for Wisconsin and it’s important that we do what is needed to ensure Major League Baseball is preserved in our state for the next generation,” Shaikh said in a statement. “Through our collective efforts, the Home Crew Coalition aims to deliver that message statewide and ensure the Brewers can call American Family Field their home for years to come.”

Evers has touted his proposal as a way to keep a Wisconsin tradition alive, while also helping a business that creates a large number of jobs and tax revenue for the state. Without it, Evers suggested, the Brewers might leave.

However, publicly funding privately owned sports teams has been hotly debated across the country, including in Wisconsin, in recent decades. Numerous economic studies have shown that public stadium financing is a bad deal for many communities.

In 1995, then-Gov. Tommy Thompson convinced fellow Republicans in the Legislature to support a deal that paid for the construction of Miller Park to replace Milwaukee County Stadium largely with a 0.1% sales tax on Milwaukee County and four surrounding counties.

That tax was very controversial, with Republican state Sen. George Petak recalled from office in 1996 after he switched his vote from against the plan to being in favor of it. The tax ended in 2020.

The Brewers played their first game at the stadium in 2001, and it was renamed American Family Field in 2021. The Brewers' current lease calls for the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District to cover repairs. But Evers and the team has said the district does not have enough money to pay for what is needed, and the state surplus provides a chance to fund it without implementing a new tax or borrowing money.

Other members of the coalition announced Wednesday include Mike Grebe, a retired attorney and former chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin; Dan Kapanke, a former Republican state senator and owner of the La Crosse Loggers baseball team; Ashok Rai, president and chief executive officer of Prevea Health; Peggy Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee; Andrew Disch, political director of North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters; Tracy Johnson, president of the Commercial Association of REALTORS Wisconsin; Jim Villa, CEO of NAIOP Wisconsin, an organization of real estate developers; and Rob Zerjav, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

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Associated Press writer Harm Venhuizen contributed to this report.