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Securing the future

Securing the future
Brian Wilson
Securing the future
Brian Wilson

Baseball fans got some good news out of Madison this week with the State Senate voting to pass a bill to provide funding for repairs and renovations to American Family Field in Milwaukee and the governor quickly signing it.

The deal was far from certain when it came up for a vote on Tuesday with it passing 19-14 with bipartisan support. Among those voting in support of the bill was Sen. Cory Tomczyk.

It is noteworthy, because the Wausau-based Tomczyk has been on the record and not being a fan of previous proposals.

“I take the role we play here in the State Senate protecting the taxpayers very seriously and for many months I believed that voting ‘No’ was the right move,” Tomczyk said. “In the past few weeks, I did my homework and educated myself further. I had several meetings with stakeholders in Madison, traveled to Milwaukee to tour American Family Field, and spoke with constituents. After getting an in-depth tour of the stadium, it became obvious that the aging building is in need of repairs. Following over 20 years of use, it is clear that American Family Field has been well cared for, but is in need of major updates in order to continue safely using it.”

“Today, on the Senate floor, I voted in favor of AB 438 and AB 439. The two bills that we passed today are essential to keep the Brewers in Wisconsin. Using a portion of the income tax generated from Brewers’ players and visiting team player salaries, the state can meet its obligation to maintain American Family Field and keep the Brewers in Milwaukee where they belong through 2050. Without passing this legislation, we risk the Brewers relocating to another city – leaving Wisconsin without a professional baseball team. The loss of tax revenue would reach over $650 million,” Tomczyk said.

The deal passed by the State Senate includes $135 million from the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, the Brewers organization to contribute $110 million and the state, which is the majority owner of the stadium, to kick in $365.8 million. The state and local payments would be made annually through 2050. In return the Brewers will extend their lease on the stadium to the middle of the century and ensure that professional baseball will continue to be played in Wisconsin.

One of the more controversial parts of the financing plan, are ticket surcharges that will be added for people attending non-baseball events. People going there to see concerts or other events will pay a $4 per ticket surcharge for general seats and a $10 per ticket surcharge for luxury seats.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, these surcharges are expected to generate about $20.7 million. The surcharges were added, and then added to, during the floor debate as a way to reduce the amount of state tax dollars going toward the deal. Given Wisconsin’s preference toward having user fees cover many government services, it should come as no surprise that the legislature would embrace this mechanism to help fund the stadium project.

While there has been plenty of criticism about the need for the Brewers’ owners to step up to the plate on funding more of the needed work, this needs to be tempered with the realism that government has a role in keeping professional sports franchises in the state, if for no other reason than to protect the investment taxpayers have already made into stadiums and infrastructure.

As Tomczyk noted, the state owns over 65% of American Family Field. If the Brewers left town, the state would be left with an empty stadium in need of major maintenance or complete demolition. “Taxpayers would be stuck with the bill to tear down a stadium to the tune of $45 - $70 million. This fiscal hole would be unacceptable and unnecessary,” he said.

It was great to see a bipartisan package come together to benefit Wisconsin residents for decades to come. For those of us who geek out over watching how government works, it was refreshing to see a floor debate be more than just an exchange of campaign commercial sound bites.

Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.