Bottom line key in local Assembly members’ arena votes
Many constituents on board after hearing the facts, representatives say

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff

July 30, 2015

OZAUKEE COUNTY — The area’s three representatives to the state Assembly voted with the bipartisan 52-34 majority Tuesday on a bill to build a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

State Reps. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville; Dan Knodl, R-Germantown; and Jim Ott, R-Mequon, all said the legislation will provide more revenue and benefits to the state than the alternative of losing the NBA team and the millions in income taxes paid by players.

The bill now goes to Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he will sign it.

“As a legislator, I have to look at the bottom line for the state,” Ott said in an interview Wednesday. “The estimates that I see are that the state portion is going to be about $3.5 million a year for 20 years, but the amount we gain in revenue from income tax of players’ salaries is in the neighborhood of $6.5 million a year.

“We would be out if the team leaves,” he said.

Knodl, whose district includes much of west Mequon, called the arena deal a win for taxpayers.

“It will protect taxpayers while encouraging much-needed development in the Park East corridor,” he said, referring to undeveloped land adjacent to the proposed arena that could become an entertainment district. “Equally important is the job creation that will accompany the arena project and surrounding development.”

Brooks, the former Ozaukee County Board chairman who is in his first term in the Legislature, said that as he learned more about the issue, he came to the conclusion that it was more cost-effective to keep the Bucks.

“Our (Republican) caucus was divided,” he said. “Nobody wants to give handouts to anybody … fiscally, it just makes sense. Under this scenario, unpaid liability goes away.”

He added that the addition of a provision that applies funds raised from ticket surcharges toward the project significantly whittled down the state’s share of the cost.

“Our obligation is going to be less than $3.5 million a year to bring in $6.5 to $7 million – and that’s in today’s wages,” he said. “That’s going to go up exponentially with the TV contract.”

Brooks and Ott said that the opinions they heard from constituents changed as the plan became more favorable to taxpayers and individuals learned more about the specifics.

“I had very few people say they weren’t supportive – once you explain the numbers to them,” Brooks said.

Ott said constituents were supportive when they learned that a significant portion of the funding is coming from out-of-state players paying income taxes in Wisconsin.

“They money they earn here is not coming from taxpayers, it’s coming from the revenue the team raises in ticket sales,” he said. “You have to look at the bottom line.”

The bill approved by the Assembly passed the state Senate July 15 on a 21-10 vote. Area Sens. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, voted yes.

Gary Achterberg can be reached at .