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Murky waters ahead for American Family Field renovations

Beware the hand-wringing politician claiming he doesn’t want to play politics with an issue and then proceeds to do just that. We’re seeing this situation emerge with what would appear to be a pretty straightforward proposition: state funding of American Family Field renovations.

Gov. Tony Evers proposed drawing on the state’s $7 billion budget surplus to pay $290 million toward the anticipated $400 million+ price tag for American Family Field maintenance and repairs. Much of the funding would go to the unglamorous maintenance of items like HVAC upgrades and roof repairs–things that come 20 years after opening. Then-Miller Park opened in 2001, and while the Brewers have kept things fresh on the fan side with things like overhauled concessions, an indoor golf simulator and reconfigured seating options, keeping the boilers running in the state-owned facility is not the team’s sole responsibility under the lease.

That proposal was shot down by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who said it didn’t represent a good deal for taxpayers. He didn’t quite present a set of reasons why the deal was bad, except saying that an extension of the team’s lease until 2043 wasn’t long enough. Fixing that is a matter of negotiations, though.

And now–with plenty of hand-wringing–Vos now says he wants to split the American Family Field funding from the rest of the state budget, forcing Milwaukee legislators to formally go on the record in support. He argues:

“Democrats vote ‘No’ on the budget even when Tony Evers signs it, because they are so radically leftist,” Vos said Monday morning. “Putting something in the budget will mean every single Democrat will probably vote ‘No.’ And, as you know, Democrats represent most of Milwaukee County. So we’re not going to allow a process where Democrats get the benefit of having Am Fam Field continue, but don’t have any of the ability to put together the coalition to make it happen.”

Vos once again blamed Gov. Evers for including the Brewer ballpark pitch in his budget, which he said has made it tougher to find the votes to get the team the money they need.

“I think there’s a way to get there,” Vos added. “It’s just [been made] really, really difficult because of the ineptitude, and the stupid way that Tony Evers did it.”

True words of a true statesman. Oh, wait–this is the very definition of playing politics.

Vos’s problem is that he really can’t summon many reasonable objections to Evers’ proposal, from a political standpoint. It uses a portion of a large state surplus to invest in a state-owned asset, it keeps the immensely popular Brewers in small-market Milwaukee (though the team has not threatened to leave and, indeed, has been quietly looking at constructing a new entertainment district south of the ballpark), it pushes the Brewers to spend their own funds on revenue-generating ballpark improvements, and it raises no taxes.

We toured American Family Field and will be previewing 2023’s changes in tomorrow’s newsletter. Sign up for the weekly Ballpark Digest newsletter for that sneak peek.

RELATED STORIES: Initial funding proposal for American Family Field renovations shot down; State surplus would help fund American Family Field maintenanceMilwaukee County debates American Family Field developmentBrewers warn of need for American Family Field improvements

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