Wisconsin lawmakers may overturn rule forcing local fairs to pay some winners

Benjamin Yount
The Center Square contributor
The state of Wisconsin wants to stop paying people who win multiple prizes at multiple county or district fairs, but lawmakers in Madison say that could kill those local fairs.

(The Center Square) – The state of Wisconsin wants to stop paying people who win multiple prizes at multiple county or district fairs, but lawmakers in Madison say that could kill those local fairs.

Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said they discovered a new rule from the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection last week that would limit state-paid premiums to winners at just one local fair. After the first first-prize, other local fairs would be 100% responsible for all prizes for that same winner.

“This means that if someone wins an award at the Elroy Fair, the Juneau County Fair would not be able to be reimbursed for the premium if they won at the Juneau County Fair,” Marklein explained.

Wisconsin has traditionally covered almost the entire cost of all premiums at almost every fair in the state.

The dollar amounts may be small, the Juneau County Fair paid last year’s fair winners $6 for most categories, but there are a lot of premiums and a lot of competitors. Marklein said it all adds up.

Howard Marklein

“Our local fairs … are coordinated by volunteers on a shoestring budget. Making up the difference of a few thousand dollars is a big deal,” Marklein said. “The Juneau County Fair, for example, estimates that they would lose 61% of their state aids if this rule proceeds.  In 2019, they shared 63 exhibitors with the Elroy Fair. Leadership from the Elroy Fair said that they have approximately 2,800 exhibitors each year. They said the burden on their volunteer fair staff to track whether or not an exhibitor has won at another fair would be enormous.”

Marklein said the Senate’s Committees on Agriculture has about 30 days to review the fair premium rule, and decide if they want to change it.

“[We] now we must decide whether to object to all or part of the rule for specified reasons. The committee may request changes to the rule. I will be working with my colleagues to determine our path forward,” Marklein added.

Fair season is quickly approaching in Wisconsin. Most fairs in the state begin in July and run through the end of August.