Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Evers’ Brewers Aid Plan Spooks Republicans

Legislator in Vos's district lost office for supporting such aid. A tough Issue for GOP.

By - Feb 20th, 2023 11:07 am
American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Hours before Milwaukee Brewers pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers threw out his own first pitch: Give the district that owns the team’s stadium $290 million to update it and keep the Brewers here through 2043.

Evers was 9 when he watched Warren Spahn win his 300th game for the then-Milwaukee Braves in County Stadium in 1961 – a memory the Democrat called “the chance of a lifetime.”

Diverting 4% of the state’s $7.1-billion budget surplus can make sure a “new generation of Brewers fans” can have that same experience, he added.

“Using just a small portion of our state’s historic surplus, we can not only save over $200 million in taxpayer dollars in the long run, but keep good-paying, family-supporting jobs here and ensure the Brewers remain in Milwaukee and continue to play a critical role in our state’s economic success for another two decades,” the governor said in announcing his proposal.

The governor had thrown a high hard one for surprised Republicans who control the Legislature, who took that pitch with a grimace. They were unhappy for three reasons:

First, Republican leaders said they knew nothing before Evers announced his plan to patch up American Family Field with $290 million. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos accused Evers of dropping “a bomb in the budget.”

Republicans know many of their constituents will question why their tax dollars should go to a team owned by someone worth an estimated $700 million whose employees make millions. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is against the Brewers-aid package, calling it a “corporate handout.”

Outstate opposition to subsidizing Milwaukee-area projects like a Brewers stadium was the reason that former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson once told residents of northern Wisconsin to “stick it to Milwaukee,” and let them pay for it when he was on a tour of that region.

Second, Republican leaders grimaced because, once every generation, fears of “losing the Brewers” – and the politicians’ fears of being blamed if they ever do leave – dominate the Capitol. In 1966, the Braves left for Milwaukee; the state’s largest city was without baseball until the Seattle Pilots relocated in 1970.

So, Evers’ first pitch amounted to a political beanball at the heads of Republican legislators: “I’m willing to put up $290 million to make sure we don’t lose the Brewers. Are you?”

Third, former Republican Sen. George Petak’s shadow still lurks in the Capitol. Petak was tossed out of office in a 1996 recall election over his agonizing, middle-of-the-night vote in 1995 to support a 0.1% sales tax surtax in five counties (Racine, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington) to help pay for the $400-million stadium.

Petak voted against the tax, then changed his mind and cast the vote he was told was needed to keep the Brewers here. His vote ended days of intense Capitol lobbying by Brewers executives, players and Milwaukee-area business leaders.

Petak’s Brewers stadium vote ended his political career, but the unpopular surtax in those five counties was collected for 24 years, from March 1996 until March of 2020.

This time, there won’t be any new taxes to update the Brewers stadium. “We oppose the return of the five-county tax, and we are prepared to commit to a lease extension for the Brewers to remain at American Family Field through at least 2043,” said Rick Schlesinger, Brewers president of business operations.

But any deal will take support from both Democrats and Republicans, Schlesinger noted.

Petak was from Racine – the region now represented by Vos. Petak, who ended his career as a division administrator for a state agency, is retired and living in Colorado.

Mindful of what happened to Petak, aware of the anti-Milwaukee feelings of many of his fellow Assembly Republicans, and unsure who the $290-million package would most help, Vos must respond carefully to the governor’s keep-the-Brewers pitch.

In an interview with WTMJ Radio, Vos warned that the state’s economy would be hurt if the team left. “No matter where you live in Wisconsin, if they leave the state, the sales tax, the income tax – all [that] follows to that new state they go to.”

Although Evers did not mention his Brewers aid package in his budget speech, Thompson made clear what’s at stake when he signed the bill that built the stadium in October 1995.

“’When the game was on the line, the people of Wisconsin came through,” Thompson said. “We refused to let baseball leave Wisconsin….Major League Baseball is part of the fabric of this state — an asset whose contributions cannot be measured in dollars and cents.”

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at

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5 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Evers’ Brewers Aid Plan Spooks Republicans”

  1. nickzales says:

    The people of Wisconsin came through? When the people were allowed to vote on a funding mechanism for the Brewers they rejected it. Why does a 20-year-old building need $400 million in maintenance? It is only used maybe 100 days a year. The other 265 it sits empty. Let the Brewers fix it.

  2. Dan Wilson says:

    My thoughts on this are the same as when Walker asked for $250 million for Fiserve Forum. The state should receive an equal amount of stock in the sports team that is realizing the benefits. Making the state a part owner keeps the franchise in town, hopefully, and makes the taxpayer a stakeholder in their sports teams. What’s not to like?

  3. Andrew B says:

    Pro tip: for the headline writer, the word “spook” is a racial slur.

  4. RetiredResident says:

    For Andrew B, pro tip: 1963 called, it wants its racial slur back. Spook, as verb means to scare or startle (stepping on a dry twig spooked the deer). Spook as a noun can be a ghost. It also can be a spy, or anyone in the intelligence field (and yes, I’ll save you the time; I am well aware the word “field” is now considered racist).

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