— The Wisconsin state Senate approved a significant public
financing deal for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena Wednesday after
members struck a rare bipartisan agreement to include a ticket
surcharge and wipe out a debt collection provision.
|"It sends a great
message to the state of Wisconsin that this project
should get done... Everybody's set up to succeed."
Republican-authored bill would devote $250 million in public
dollars to the $500 million project for the NBA team over the
next 20 years. The Bucks' owners would contribute $150 million
and former owner Herb Kohl would contribute $100 million.
Bucks President Peter Feigin told the Legislature's finance
committee earlier this month that if construction doesn't begin
this year, the NBA will move the team, possibly to Las Vegas or
Seattle. He said he was overjoyed to see the Senate pass the
Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin, left, speaks
with Tom Millonzi, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters
Local 200, during an event hosted by MillerCoors on
Tuesday to show support for creating a new Milwaukee
sends a great message to the state of Wisconsin that
this project should get done," he said immediately after
the vote. "Everybody's set up to succeed."
For a while it didn't look like the bill was going
anywhere. Republicans control the Senate 19-14 but a
handful of GOP senators opposed to subsidizing a private
sports team weren't behind the measure. Sen. Steve Nass,
a Whitewater Republican issued a statement Wednesday
branding the bill a giveaway for the Bucks. Republicans
who supported the bill had to turn to minority Democrats
for help getting to 17 votes.
Democratic senators met for most of the day Tuesday and
most of Wednesday afternoon ironing out what they wanted
in the bill. They finally emerged from their meetings
late Wednesday afternoon with a number of changes.
One of them calls for a $2 ticket surcharge, with $1.50
going to the arena's governing district and 50 cents
going to the state. The surcharge would increase state
revenues by $500,000 and the district's revenues by $1.5
million, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau
The original bill called for the state to make an $8
million annual contribution to the project with tax
dollars. The state would have offset $4 million of that
contribution by taking over collecting past-due debt on
Milwaukee County-issued fines, forfeitures and property
taxes and pumping the first $4 million of that revenue
back into the general fund, with the balance going back
to the county.
Democrats balked at that plan, saying it would burden
poor people struggling to pay their debt. They erased
the provision but allowed language calling for slashing
state aid to Milwaukee County by $4 million each year
The Senate convened almost immediately after the
amendment was drafted. Senators looked exhausted as they
took their seats and quickly approved the amendment on a
voice vote. Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, a La
Crosse Democrat, said that she felt like she'd been
through an NBA tryout and hoped she'd never have to deal
with another arena issue during her legislative career.
But a number of Milwaukee-area senators hailed the deal
as a way to keep a key economic engine in the state.
According to the state Department of Administration, NBA
players pay $6.5 million in income taxes to the state of
Wisconsin annually and the Bucks add $130 million to
Wisconsin's economy each year.
"(The deal) keeps Milwaukee on the map. It keeps
Wisconsin on the map," said Sen. Chris Larson, a
Milwaukee Democrat. "That's a huge cultural win for us."
The Senate adopted the bill on a 21-10 vote after less
than an hour of debate. Three Republicans — Nass, Robert
Cowles of Green Bay and Jerry Petrowski of Marathon —
joined seven Democrats in voting against the measure. It
now goes to the state Assembly. Republicans hold a much
larger majority in that chamber, 63-36. A spokeswoman
for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Rochester Republican,
didn't immediately respond to an email inquiring about
when the chamber may take up the bill.
Feigin, the Bucks' president, said he didn't care for
the ticket surcharge but he's happy with where things
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, meanwhile, said
he was disappointed with the Democrats' move to erase
mandatory state collection of debt.
The state has stronger powers to force payment on
past-due debt than the county, he said, and he was
hoping the move would generate as much as $6 million for
the county. He said he's also concerned about making up
the cut in state aid. He said he'd keep talking to the
state about striking a deal on debt collection without a
"Now it's going to be a lot harder," Abele said. "(But)
I still strongly believe investing in an arena is a
generational opportunity for the county."
The parties brokered a deal
Wednesday afternoon that includes a $2 ticket surcharge and
eliminates provisions requiring the state to offset a $4 million
annual contribution to the stadium by collecting Milwaukee
County's past due debt.
The Senate quickly convened after the deal was struck and passed
the deal 21-10.
The bill now goes to the state Assembly.
Reaction from state
legislators about the Bucks arena deal
“It is my priority to protect hard-working
Wisconsin taxpayers. With the addition of a two-dollar ticket
surcharge and sunsetting the retail tax provision, my
constituents are afforded protections.
“My broad goal was to prevent taxpayers from a burdensome price
tag. My more specific goal was to ensure the retail tax does not
saddle my constituents indefinitely. Today, both goals were
achieved and the Milwaukee Bucks remain in Wisconsin.”
— State Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin
“The ball is in the Assembly’s court now. Today, the Senate once
again led the way and stuck with the blueprint for success that
has worked this entire session. If you count and have the votes,
you take the vote.
“This vote is bittersweet for me. This is my last vote in the
state Senate and I am humbled to have been a part of this body,
but I am extremely proud that my final vote will impact the
revival of Milwaukee and provide a great economic opportunity in
— Sen. (and Waukesha County executive) Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee
“The final deal strikes an important balance between limited
public funding and a strong financial commitment by the team
owners, as well as those attending events at the arena in the
future. By making an investment at the state level, we can take
advantage of the rising salary cap in the NBA and capture an
expanding income tax base. This will allow us to fund priorities
like K-12 education and infrastructure in future budgets without
increasing taxes on middle-class families.
“I would not have supported state financing for an arena without
a meaningful commitment from the team owners and those who plan
to attend games. That is why I was happy to see the financial
investment by the team as well as the inclusion of a ticket
surcharge in the final deal.”
— Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa
“I’m happy to report the Milwaukee Bucks are here to stay.
“Passing a bipartisan plan that creates good-paying jobs,
creates a destination entertainment district where there is
nothing, keeps a sports team in our city, without new taxes, is
a slam dunk.
“Today’s bipartisan 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.” — Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills
“When someone says give us $400 million or we will take our
basketball and $6.5 million in annual income tax revenues to
Vegas, you can’t call that a negotiation. It is nothing short of
a capitulation by the state.
“To say the Milwaukee Bucks have this massive impact on
Wisconsin is a political deception. That $80 million in state
funding could be used to save businesses that have a far greater
income tax benefit or even better, taking some of those dollars
and investing in our youth sports facilities around Wisconsin.”
— Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater
The state Senate was poised to vote on a public financing deal
for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena Wednesday after minority
Democrats said they've agreed on revisions to the plan that
include a ticket surcharge.
Republicans have crafted a bill that would devote $250 million
in public dollars to the $500 million project. The Bucks' owners
would contribute $150 million and former owner Herb Kohl would
contribute $100 million. Bucks President Peter Feigin told the
Legislature's finance committee earlier this month that if
construction doesn't begin this year, the NBA will move the
team, possibly to Las Vegas or Seattle.
Republicans control the Senate and had hoped to take up the bill
this week. But the GOP holds only a 19-14 edge in the chamber
and some GOP senators aren't behind the bill — Sen. Steve Nass,
a Whitewater Republican, for example, issued a statement
Wednesday calling the proposal a giveaway for the Bucks — and
Republican leaders have been forced to encourage Milwaukee-area
Democrats to join them to generate enough votes for passage.
Democratic senators met for several hours Wednesday and agreed
on a deal that calls for a $2 ticket surcharge, with $1.50 going
to the stadium and 50 cents going to the state.
The bill also includes provisions that require the state to
contribute $4 million to the project annually. The measure calls
for the state to offset that spending by taking over collecting
overdue fines, forfeitures and taxes in Milwaukee County and
pumping $4 million from those collections back into the state's
The Democrats eliminated that requirement. Sen. Chris Larson, a
Milwaukee Democrat, called that portion of the proposal
"heartless," saying the arena shouldn't be built on the backs of
people struggling to pay their debts. The county would still
have to contribute $4 million a year but through some other
mechanism, Larson said.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he was disappointed
with the change. He said he still believes in the project and
will try to convince the state to go ahead with collecting the
county's debt even without a mandate in state law. He said he
didn't have a plan for how the county would generate $4 million
without the state collection.
"Now it's going to be a lot harder," he said.
The Senate convened briefly after the Democrats' meeting broke
up and then recessed for party caucuses to discuss the plan. The
body was expected to reconvene and take up the revised bill by
leaders urge legislators to fund Bucks arena