Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. September 19, 2023.

Editorial: Brewers proposal isn’t a good deal for Wisconsin

The new proposal to spend $614 million on American Family Field in exchange for the Brewers agreeing to stay in Milwaukee through 2050 is not the deal it’s being sold as.

It’s difficult to see this as anything other than the latest attempt by a sports team to extort massive amounts of cash to prop up an already-bloated bottom line. The stadium cost about $290 million when it was built two decades ago. What Legislators are now talking about is equivalent to more than the original construction cost, even accounting for inflation.

Let’s break this down. The proposal gives the project $60.8 million in the next fiscal year and as much as $20 million annually through 2045-46. Milwaukee would contribute $202 million in all, with Milwaukee County on the hook for $135 million.

The Brewers’ contribution? $100 million. That’s for a team worth about $1.6 billion and an owner worth $700 million.

Does the investment have a return? Not based on the numbers we can find. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the stadium’s baseball games generate something in the neighborhood of $19.8 million annually. That’s not even enough to break even on a single year of the $20 million contributions.

The Brewers undoubtedly generate more revenue for Milwaukee than just that. Restaurants, hotels and other amenities definitely see a boost. But the scale of such gains is highly debatable.

In 2019, the Berkeley Economic Review published an article that found the investment of public money in stadiums rarely generates returns that cover the investment. A 2017 analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis concluded the economic impact of sports stadiums is “exaggerated because they fail to recognize opportunity costs. Consumers who spend money on sporting events would likely spend the money on other forms of entertainment, which has a similar economic impact.”

If the economics don’t make sense, what does here? The proposal being pushed by legislators is significantly more than a package backed by Gov. Tony Evers. The common element in both proposals was the requirement that the Brewers extend their lease, tying the team to Milwaukee for years to come.

This isn’t about economics. It’s about the prestige attached to the idea of having a Major League Baseball team in town. It’s about pride. It’s about ego.

It would be one thing if the fidelity of communities was rewarded by similar commitments by the teams that play there, but we all know that’s not true. The chatter about the Brewers potentially being a team to relocate ramped up immediately after the Oakland A’s made their move to Las Vegas all but official. It was piggybacked on the spectacle of a city losing a team that had been in place since 1968.

One report made the connection explicit. Gabe Lacques, who covers sports for USA Today, wrote a piece headlined with the statement other cities were “on the clock.” He specifically mentioned the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and, yes, the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Orioles were the original Milwaukee Brewers before moving to St. Louis to become the Browns. They went from St. Louis to Baltimore, ditching the name but keeping the color scheme.

Milwaukee also lost the Braves who, like the Orioles, are on their third city. They started in Boston, moved to Milwaukee and then decamped for Atlanta. The aforementioned A’s top that with Las Vegas their fourth home, following Oakland, Kansas City and their origin in Philadelphia.

The simple reality is that these teams will go wherever the money is promised. The number of teams truly tied to their cities is very small. Even if Wisconsin approves a deal with the Brewers the team will, inevitably, be back with hat in hand and implied relocation threats in a couple decades.

Teams do this because it works. But the proper word to describe what they’re doing isn’t partnership or relationship. It’s blackmail.


Wisconsin State Journal. September 14, 2023.

Editorial: Not so fast, Robin Vos. Hold a hearing on plan to end gerrymandering

The state Assembly leader and the governor need to take a deep breath and slow down so an agreement on fair voting maps can actually get done.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, surprised Wisconsin on Tuesday by announcing he will now support the Iowa model for nonpartisan redistricting — something he has adamantly opposed in the past so he could gerrymander.

Better late than even later.

Even if Vos and most of his Republican colleagues are embracing this longstanding good government proposal for political reasons, that doesn’t mean Democrats should reflexively abandon it now. Democrats have been demanding the Iowa model for more than a decade — especially since losing power and feeling the brunt of voting district lines being surgically drawn by the GOP to hurt them.

Vos wouldn’t be agreeing to this, we suspect, unless he thought fair maps under the Iowa model were the best he could hope for. Vos fears a new liberal majority on the state Supreme Court might strike down his gerrymandered maps and draw new ones to his party’s disadvantage. He is so worried that he wildly threatened to impeach incoming Justice Janet Protasiewicz before she even heard a case.

Reality seems to be sinking in that Vos can’t pull off impeachment — legally or politically. So touting nonpartisan redistricting may be his best fallback plan.

Unfortunately, Vos just sprung the Iowa bill on Democrats, trying to claim it as his own and perhaps hide wording that undermines the proposal and doesn’t belong. He’s even scheduled an Assembly vote for today — just 48 hours later. That’s not how you build bipartisan support for important and complicated legislation, which Vos knows well. Nor is it fair to the public, which deserves some time to review the plan, learn more about its provisions and attend a public hearing.

The Assembly definitely should not vote on this bill today. Rushing it to the floor so abruptly only breeds suspicion.

Maybe that’s what Vos wants — and is getting — because Democrats including Gov. Tony Evers instantly rejected the bill out of hand, which is disappointing. The governor should keep an open mind, especially with Vos saying he’s willing to negotiate specifics.

Vos and the Democrats may be thinking the same thing — that the Democrats could be better off strategically if the liberal-leaning high court draws the lines than if a nonpartisan state agency does. But that won’t put an end to the partisan games over redistricting. Democrats could lose their liberal court majority and again find themselves wishing they had acted on the Iowa model when they had the chance.

Under the Iowa model, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau must be “strictly nonpartisan.” According to the agency’s analysis of the Republican-sponsored bill, “No district may be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator, or other person or group. The LRB may not use residence addresses of incumbent legislators, political affiliations of registered voters, previous election results or demographic information to augment or dilute the voting strength of a language or racial minority group,” unless required by the federal Voting Rights Act.

All that sounds great — and much better than in the past when one party or the other got to draw the lines to its favor.

The Republican proposal for nonpartisan redistricting “is largely the same as that in Iowa,” according to the LRB, but with some exceptions.

Those exceptions need more than two days to digest and consider. That wording must be fleshed out at a public hearing. So should a change sought by Common Cause in Wisconsin, a good government group, to help ensure the party in power doesn’t abandon a nonpartisan process.

The merits of the Iowa model shouldn’t be rejected because of haste or hypocrisy from either political party. The people of Wisconsin deserve fair maps, and large majorities of voters in advisory referendums across the state have called for a nonpartisan process. Their representatives at the statehouse should pause, schedule a hearing for a few weeks out, then negotiate if necessary and finally get this done.