Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Brewers Want $100 Million Tax Subsidy?

So claims Journal Sentinel. But where exactly did this figure come from?

By - Mar 14th, 2022 03:36 pm
File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

For my money, Tom Daykin is one of the best reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Years ago, business reporters at the paper came up with the term, “the Full Daykin,” to describe someone who turned in three stories in one day. Rarely — if ever — did any reporter but Daykin do so.

So it’s good news the JS has Daykin covering the question of an additional tax subsidy for the Milwaukee Brewers stadium, as I’ve previously written. But his latest story was, er, a bit lacking in evidence. Call it the incomplete Daykin.

“Brewers might seek $100 million in new public money,” the headline declared, “Request could reach $100 million,” a breaker headline touted, and “It’s a fair assumption the Milwaukee Brewers this year will begin the process of seeking upwards of $100 million dollars in public financing,” the lead by Daykin declared.

And where did this figure come from? Journalist Neil deMause, whose website reports critically on publicly financed stadiums and arenas, told Daykin a request of “$100 million or so is extremely likely.”

And what was that based on? I asked deMause in an email. “That’s the only number I’ve seen reported,” he replied. But no one had reported that figure, until Daykin did.

I’m a big fan of deMause as well. He is a longtime reporter who created his website as a companion to the book he co-wrote, Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit. But he has no pipeline to the Milwaukee Brewers or any inside knowledge of what they want or what the money might be spent on. His strength is analysis: tracking all sports subsidies in the nation and putting them into context.

Daykin also provided some examples of recent funding deals for other cities, but none of them seemed comparable. The stadiums in Cleveland and Baltimore are older and in Phoenix the Diamondbacks argued that the county had not saved enough money to keep the stadium in good condition. In Milwaukee the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District has saved some $87 million to pay for all possible repairs and upgrades through 2040. And Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers’ president of business operations, has said that while some ballparks are “becoming obsolete,” the Brewers’ American Family Field has not and is “an excellent entertainment venue.”

The $87 million reserve fund was created based on an analysis the district commissioned by the M.A. Mortenson company, whose March 2019 report included a remarkably detailed cost out of every possible repair and upgrade that might be needed by 2040, as Urban Milwaukee reported.

And the Brewers had repeated chances at meetings of the district to contest the numbers and did not do so, as district board member Mark Thomsen told Urban Milwaukee. But Schlesinger has since gone on to claim the Mortenson report was incomplete.

The key issue won’t be about the amount spent by other cities on their baseball team, but the clause in the Brewers’ contract which states the team’s venue must “reasonably be said to fall within the ‘top’ twenty-five percent (25%) of all such facilities, when such facilities are ranked or rated according to the quality with which they are repaired and improved.” The Brewers have commissioned their own report, which is likely to argue that Milwaukee has somehow fallen behind the top 25% of pro baseball stadiums.

The report, due this summer, will be released at a time when both the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County face huge structural deficits that are predicted to require massive cuts in staff or services by 2023. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, led by its president Tim Sheehy, is pushing for a local sales tax hike to benefit both the city and county, as Urban Milwaukee reported. But Sheehy has also warned that the Greater Milwaukee area must continue to subsidize the Brewers, even after taxpayers were charged $605 million over the last two decades for the team’s stadium. Precisely how this can be afforded by the financially-strapped city and county is far from clear.

The Brewers report will also come out amid a hotly contested race for governor, and could become an issue in that campaign. Back in 1996, Republican state senator George Petak, who represented the Racine area, was recalled from office for supporting the five-county sales tax for the Brewers stadium. Any proposal for yet another Brewers’ subsidy is likely to be just as controversial.

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One thought on “Back in the News: Brewers Want $100 Million Tax Subsidy?”

  1. B says:

    Thank you for following this story, Bruce. I will not support subsidizing the Brewers while our public parks are in such dire need.

    As a side note the acres and acres of concrete with freeway access that sit empty 260 days a year and otherwise could be tax generating homes and business make me sad.

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