State to contribute up to $80 million to Milwaukee arena

State to contribute up to $80 million to Milwaukee arena

The state of Wisconsin will put no more than $80 million toward a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

“The price of doing nothing is not zero,” Gov. Scott Walker said during a Thursday news conference, where he announced a deal agreed to by local and state leaders to help finance half of a $500 million arena.

The deal calls for taxpayers to front $250 million borrowed through the Wisconsin Center District in Milwaukee, which is funded by hotel, rental car, food and beverage taxes in Milwaukee. The state would spend a total of no more than $80 million on their debt over 20 years, and additional parts of the payoff would be split between the city and county of Milwaukee.

The governor claims not providing money for a new arena would result in the loss of $419 million, because the NBA has required a new arena be constructed by 2017 for the team to stay in the city. Walker says that total includes lost income tax revenue from NBA players, and the costs of the Bradley center. Signs in his announcement Thursday said it is “Cheaper to Keep Them.”

“Even if people say, ‘I live clear on the other side of the state, and I could care less about the Milwaukee bucks, I’m never going to see them, I don’t like NBA basketball’ if that’s someone’s opinion, they should still care about this because a $419 million hole is going to force tough choices for things they care about in future state budgets,” Walker said.

Walker said the state’s return on the investment into a stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks would be three to one. He said the plan includes “clawback provisions” in case the Bucks would leave Milwaukee.

City and county leaders appeared with Walker, saying the deal was important to economic development in Milwaukee.

“People should be sure to kick the tires on this deal,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “But the potential upside is larger than we have had for downtown in terms of economic development ever.”

But the sell is going to be for out-area lawmakers, or those who are concerned about cuts made in other parts of the budget. Some Republican senators have called for the deal to be removed from the state budget or added as an amendment.

Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said it is difficult to gauge whether there is support in the Senate for the deal, but that he will be talking with his members over the coming weeks.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said he had been discussing the issue with his members as well and was also making the case that this was a good deal for the taxpayer.

When asked how he would defend the deal to those who see cuts to the University of Wisconsin system and question his priorities, the governor said that’s why people should care about seeing the deal succeed.

“There’s a pretty compelling case to be made that if you want future budgets to fund the things that are priorities, those of us who live here in the state of Wisconsin, we doggone better fine a way to make sure this revenue doesn’t go away,” Walker said.

The finance committee will need to approve the measure first if the provision stays in the budget. It’s unclear when they will return to resume discussions.