State officials get behind Bucks arena deal
Ozaukee Assembly representatives say they intend to vote for the plan

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff

July 21, 2015

OZAUKEE COUNTY — There is widespread support among elected state leaders from Ozaukee County for funding a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

Both state senators who represent portions of Ozaukee County voted in favor of the funding plan, and the two lawmakers who represent the bulk of Ozaukee County in the state Assembly told the News Graphic Friday that they likely will support the bill when it comes up there.

The Senate approved the measure, which had been separated from the state budget and the subject of negotiations that ran until just before Wednesday’s vote, on a 21-10 bipartisan vote.

“I’m happy to report, the Milwaukee Bucks are here to stay,” said state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. As the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, she played a role in the negotiations that preceded the vote.

“Passing a bipartisan plan that creates good-paying jobs, creates a destination entertainment district where there (now) is nothing, keeps a sports team in our city, without new taxes, is a slam-dunk,” she said.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said his vote in favor of the plan was “in the best interest of my constituents and taxpayers throughout Wisconsin.

“The Milwaukee Bucks leaving was worse for taxpayers across the state of Wisconsin,” he said. “The NBA players’ income tax and ticket surcharge will more than pay for the state portion of the new arena,” he said.

“Without a new arena, we know Wisconsin would lose at least $6.5 million in revenue from players’ income tax, and taxpayers will lose any revenue growth coming from new salary cap increases,” he said. “The taxpayers have been subsidizing current Bradley Center improvements. To date, Republicans and Democrats have approved $16 million in bonding for Bradley Center upkeep. This subsidy would increase without a professional sports tenant.

“I am confident this package will get Wisconsin out of the arena business,” he added. “Required by the proposal, the Milwaukee Bucks and other tenants will be responsible for all arena upkeep or cost overruns.” The bill now moves on to the Assembly. State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said he expects it will come up for debate and a vote during the week of July 27. If the measure stays in its current form, he said he will support it. “I think this is beneficial to the state,” he said. “The state would be putting in $4 million a year, and we’d be getting back $6 million to $6.5 million in revenue.” He said an initial look at the issue might cause some to ask why the state should put any tax money into what is basically a private business.

“If the Bucks leave, we come out behind financially,” he said. “We will collect more sales taxes and income taxes from the players with salaries going up than what the state is putting into the deal.”

Ott and state Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, said that the addition of a $2-per-ticket surcharge that will help pay for the arena was a significant improvement to the plan.

“From a fiscal standpoint, it’s a good deal,” said Brooks. “It’s as a good deal as we can get at this point, especially as we have the ticket surcharge included.”

Brooks said the discussion of the arena package was “a real educational process.” He noted that the Ozaukee County Board had approved a resolution during his tenure as board chairman that opposed any arena plan that would involve county contributions. Ozaukee County is part of a five-county area that continues to fund Miller Park through a 0.1 percent sales tax.

“I’ve taken a very cautious approach to this whole thing,” he said. “I didn’t want any sort of regional tax – and I think we’ve accomplished that.”

He said it also is significant that the bill coming over from the Senate takes the state off the hook for ongoing maintenance, which it now is responsible for with the Bradley Center.

“Here’s a simple analogy,” he said. “Imagine you have a used car that is costing you $6,000 a year in maintenance – or in this case $6 million a year in maintenance.

“If we get a new facility and get a guarantee that you’re out of the business altogether, wouldn’t you do that?”

Gary Achterberg can be reached at ..