Taxpayers shouldn’t pay for Brewers upgrades

By: 
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

It’s never a good sign when a professional sports organization is holding its hand out for money. However, that’s what the Milwaukee Brewers are doing right now, panhandling for legislators to fork over $290 million in taxpayer funds for renovations to its stadium.

According to an article from The Badger Project, the Brewers need $400 million to update American Family Field over the next 20 years, and the ballclub has spent $575,000 just in the first six months of 2023 to sit down with our representatives in state government to convince them that public dollars are needed to keep a wonderland for its fans glorious and up to date.

I have a bit of an issue with the notion that organizations that pay many of their players eight-figure salaries annually — Christian Yelich alone is getting paid $22 million in 2023, according to Spotrac — can’t come up with the cash to keep their stadiums from caving in on themselves, and I especially can’t fathom why a sports stadium should take priority over the infrastructure, such as roads, that we’re supposed to be paying taxes for.

There’s a surplus, Brewers advocates note, of over $6 billion, so it’s not like the state isn’t bleeding green. The reason the state has so much money has more to do with the fact that lawmakers haven’t funded our needed services like they should, and while an updated stadium would benefit those among us who can afford the price of admission, the rest would have to live with paying for a stadium while never getting the chance to see what’s inside.

Sadly, there’s precedent for this, as the Milwaukee Bucks wheeled and dealed in 2016 and got the state to join forces with Milwaukee County to cough up $250 million to build a new arena. That was an entirely new building, and yet the Brewers plan to spend $400 million to upgrade an existing facility. There’s something wrong with this picture.

Of course, that’s only one factor when it comes to providing public funds to the Brewers.

Consider the roads I mentioned earlier. Most of us tend to rock and roll while traveling to our destinations without having to turn the radio on. Shawano County Highway Commissioner Grant Bystol has consistently said that roads need to be rehabilitated every 20 years, but the funding that the county receives from the state for road work is minimal, and as a result, only so much can be done each year, and many of our roads have passed their expiration date.

Yet the Brewers want $290 million in state funds.

Our municipalities recently got a bump in the amount of shared revenue they receive from the state, along with a plan to provide more in future years, depending on how the economy holds. However, this was after decades of not keeping pace. It seems more appropriate to dole out taxpayer money to keep emergency services running, power systems in good repair and picking up our trash so our communities don’t look like Dumpsters.

Yet the Brewers think they deserve the money more.

Our schools have to go to a referendum regularly to build new facilities, upgrade existing buildings, providing technology to help students to learn and, in some cases, just to pay for the necessary staff to keep the school running. Menominee Indian School District convinced voters to pay for a $35 million high school being built as we speak. Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District got voters to fund upgrades to its three schools in 2018 to the tune of $13.1 million. Shawano School District is pondering referenda to go to voters next spring.

Yet the Brewers want the governor and the legislature to sign a check with more zeroes than a losers’ club, and the public doesn’t have a say.

The Nancy Byng Community Theater in Abrams just finished putting a new roof on its building to the tune of $50,000. This was done by asking individual people and charitable organizations to donate money, which means folks had a choice about whether to give or not.

We’re going to be forking over the cash to the Brewers under this proposal, whether we like it or not.

There are a lot of things that the surplus billions could be spent on to better improve society, too many to mention. Look at the number of organizations like the FRESH Project, Shawano Area Matthew 25 and Safe Haven that could use state funding, not to mention our libraries, with the one in Shawano falling apart and the one in Lakewood bursting at the seams because it’s too small for community use and demand.

Once the roads are paved, schools have enough funding to educate, people can feed themselves and afford to live in homes, and cities can pay for police and fire departments without breaking the bank, I’d have no problem with the state pondering whether to give the Brewers a helping hand. However, the Brewers are not starving children or battered spouses, so the idea of giving hundreds of millions for building repairs ahead of those who truly need a hand up makes as much sense as taking a bath in nuclear waste.

As baseball fans say, wait until next year.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for NEW Media. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.

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