Senate Changes, Approves Bucks Deal

MacIver News Service | July 15, 2015

[Madison, Wisc…] After weeks of negotiations between the State of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County, The City of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Center District, the Milwaukee Bucks, and others, a plan to fund the construction of a new basketball arena in Milwaukee was approved by the State Senate on Wednesday evening on a 21-10 bipartisan vote.

“As I have said throughout the long process of crafting this proposal, as goes the City of Milwaukee, so goes the state. Today’s vote was a win for Milwaukee and a win for the State of Wisconsin,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said in a statement following the vote.

The floor debate only lasted about an hour, but the entire day leading up to that was spent finagling last minute changes to the hard fought deal. The two most significant changes included a ticket surcharge and language that limits how the county can provide its portion of the funding.

The basic concept of the plan remains intact. The public will provide half of the funding for the arena, which comes out to over $400 million when interest is included. The State and the County each are responsible for providing $4 million a year for the next 20 years to the Wisconsin Center District. That entity will be responsible for doing the actual bonding, and for contributing another $93 million to the project.

The original plan called for the county to raise its portion through debt collections. However Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) insisted that plan be removed from the bill. He said that would have meant building the stadium on the backs of the poor. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said that wasn’t the case, but regardless the county now needs to come up with a different plan on how to raise its share.

The other big change was the addition of a user fee in the form of a ticket surcharge. That will be $2 per ticket. The state will get 25 percent of that revenue, which goes back into the general fund. The rest will go to the WCD, which it will use to immediately start paying back its bonding. The surcharge is expected to raise about $2 million a year.

The final 21-10 vote proved to be a rare showing of bipartisanship in the Wisconsin Legislature. 15 Republicans and 6 Democrats voted for it. 3 Republicans and 7 Democrats voted against it. Two lawmakers were absent.

“Today’s bi-partisan agreement is a once in a lifetime opportunity and will benefit everyone in the state. Every dollar the state invests in this project will deliver two dollars in economic growth. Just like the investment the state made in Amazon, the Bucks Arena plan is an exciting investment in the future of our state,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) in a statement.

Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) was the only Milwaukee Senator to vote against the plan.

“I have publicly stated – repeatedly – that the burden of paying for the construction of the new arena should fall on those who would benefit from its construction. This bill failed to live up to this basic requirement, and I could not in the end support it,” Carpenter said in his statement following the vote.

Fellow Milwaukee Democrat, Senator Lena Taylor, however applauded the vote.

“This is about more than basketball; it’s about economic development. Taxpayers who would have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in player income tax revenues won today. While this wasn’t a perfect deal, I look forward to continuing to work in the future to make it better,” she said in a statement.

The Senate Bill now goes to the Assembly for its approval. Before it can become official, however, the City of Milwaukee Common Council must approve its portion of the funding too. The county, on the other hand, will be held to whatever the state decides, and will not have the opportunity to vote on the final plan.