June 4, 2015

The Bucks mean big bucks, but at what cost?

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

I’ve been cheering for the Milwaukee Bucks as long as I can remember. And now, with the Bucks in need of a new arena to keep them in Milwaukee, I’m cheering for them even more. I’m not just rooting for the team or our local community, but for our entire state. Allow me to explain what I’m saying.

While Governor Walker’s initial proposal held future taxpayers harmless by dedicating additional players’ income taxes to the deal, it appears his efforts weren’t enough leadership to convince his own Republican colleagues to support the arena. Now, while Governor Walker flies all over the country preparing for his Presidential campaign, or perhaps because of his Presidential aspirations, his plan has fallen apart.

In fact, the only part of his plan that stayed the same is former owner Sen. Herb Kohl and the new Bucks owners are still willing to pay half of the $500 million arena deal. Under Governor Walker’s not-so-watchful eye, the rest of the deal has eroded.

Under a new plan, Republicans want to siphon $120 million out of Walker’s original pledge of $200 million. Does that sound a little like the Republican efforts to siphon money out of Milwaukee Public Schools? Yet, simultaneously, the City of Milwaukee’s portion of the deal has nearly doubled ($47 million) while Milwaukee County’s portion has more than tripled ($80 million). Additionally, with the state kicking in just a fraction of what they were originally going to invest, organizers have pulled in the Wisconsin Center District ($93 million), which currently operates the Wisconsin Center, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre.

People often ask, why can’t the owners just pay for the entire stadium on their own? Or, why can’t the Milwaukee taxpayers just pick up the tab? The answer is simple. We are all in this together. But at what cost?

They say money talks, and you know what walks, so let’s talk about money. If the Bucks leave Milwaukee, the largest economic impact would on our state’s bank account. In 32 years, by the time my son is my age, Wisconsin will have lost over $700 million in income tax revenue from players’ salaries according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The costs go beyond state tax collections. The arena is a mixed-use facility with more than just basketball taking place. The current arena is a hub for events such as concerts and conventions, which inject tourism revenue into our economy. When someone comes to Milwaukee to watch the Bucks or attend a concert, they park here, eat here and maybe even spend the night and take in other parts of what makes Milwaukee great. That tourism revenue helps fund what makes Milwaukee the city we love. Yet, that same revenue also educates kids across the state, from Milwaukee to Bayfield.  

If the state doesn’t pay its fair share and Milwaukee loses the Bucks, the state loses out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Meanwhile, we will be left with the bill for tens of millions of dollars to retrofit the aging Bradley Center, according to media accounts.

While I am supportive of the Bucks, I am critical of this deal because I believe the state must pay its fair share. But the deal isn’t done yet. This week, Republicans began to step out on their Governor, calling for the Bucks arena plan to be pulled out of the budget. Now, asking for Democratic votes after Republicans have already negotiated the deal is like eating a Thanksgiving turkey without cooking it. This is the highest stakes game of political chicken since Governor Walker turned down $800 million in federal funds to build a high speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee.

Now, Governor Walker is scheduled to announce yet a third deal. Does this mean Republicans are willing to rethink their plan to siphon $120 million of state support out of the deal? Are they willing to rethink the local funding model that will balance some of this plan on the backs Milwaukee residents who can least afford the expense?

Just like Republicans should not have excluded Milwaukee legislators from their last-minute Milwaukee school governance changes, they should have brought us to the table on the Bucks arena deal from day one.

Keeping the Bucks in Wisconsin means big bucks not just to Milwaukee, but all of Wisconsin’s economy. Stay tuned!