Wisconsin Senate passes Bucks arena deal

Associated Press

July 15, 2015

MADISON, Wis. — 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."  -Bucks President Peter Feigin

The 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 bill.
 

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 Bucks arena.
Katherine Michalets/Freeman Staff

"It 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 analysis.

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 until 2035.

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 stand overall.

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 mandate.

"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 southeastern Wisconsin.”
— 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

 


MADISON— 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 general fund.

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 Wednesday evening.


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