County lawmakers split as Assembly passes arena deal
Differing perspectives on public financing at heart of rift

By Arthur Thomas - Freeman Staff and Scott Bauer - The Associated Press

July 29, 2015

Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin, left, speaks with Tom Millonzi, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 200, during an event hosted by MillerCoors on Tuesday, July 14th to show support for creating a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.
Katherine Michalets/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — The state representatives from Waukesha County split in their votes on the Bucks arena deal, with seven lawmakers supporting the bill, while three were opposed.

The bill passed the state Assembly 52-34 and now heads to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. It spends $250 million in public funds on a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, a deal both Republicans and Democrats lauded as good for the state and city.

No one spoke against the measure as Bucks coach Jason Kidd and team president Peter Feigin watched from the gallery. They made the rounds before and after the roughly hour-long debate, posing for pictures with both lawmakers and members of the public.

“The Bucks will not only remain home in Wisconsin, but we’ll soon begin a transformative economic development project that will help revitalize our community and region,” Feigin said in a statement issued by the team.

Walker called it a “good deal all the way around” while speaking with reporters at Pat’s King of Steaks, one of two Philadelphia cheesesteak institutions he visited Tuesday.

“For us, it’s what we’d hoped for,” Walker said. “A good, bipartisan vote. It had strong votes in both the Assembly and the Senate. A lot of hats off.”

The deal received bipartisan support, with legislators lauding the move’s positive impact on the state by keeping the Bucks and the income taxes paid by NBA players and staff in the state. While taxpayers are on the hook for $250 million initially, that commitment will grow to $400 million with interest over 20 years. Current and former Bucks owners are contributing another $250 million.

There is also a $2 ticket surcharge.

Those supporting the bill included Republicans Scott Allen, of Waukesha, Janel Brandtjen, of Menomonee Falls, Rob Hutton, of Brookfield, Joel Kleefisch, of Oconomowoc, Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield, Mike Kuglitsch, of New Berlin, and Joe Sanfelippo, of New Berlin.

Republicans Dave Craig, of the Town of Vernon, Cody Horlacher, of Mukwonago, and Chris Kapenga, of the Town of Delafield, voted against the plan.

‘If we do nothing, we’re subsidizing them to leave’

Pewaukee state Rep. Adam Neylon did note vote. He is currently in Turkey on a cultural exchange trip that has been scheduled for months. Neylon was invited because he is a lawmaker and members of both parties have gone on the trip over the years. Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, is also on the trip. Neylon said Assembly leadership knew he’d be out of the country when the vote was scheduled.

Neylon had previously voiced his opposition to the plan’s usage of public financing for the arena, and said he would have been a “no” vote.

Public support for a private business was among the issues those who did vote on the proposal differed on. Supporters said the deal would bring the state $3 million a year.

“I’m talking to you as a CPA,” Kooyenga said during debate on the bill. “We’ve reached a point where if we do nothing, we’re subsidizing them to leave.”

But after the vote, Craig said taxpayer funding for the arena “sends a bad message” to small businesses.

“I fear the negative impacts of cronyism will outweigh the perceived benefits of the taxpayer subsidy of this project,” Craig said. “Further, nothing stops the cartel that is the NBA from making a similar demand from taxpayers in the future — and undoubtedly the legislature will answer with taxpayer funds then too.”

Waukesha County Democratic Party Chair Scott Trindl said while he wished the deal could have been completed with less taxpayer dollars attached, it was probably the “the best one that could have been passed.”

“The economic impact of keeping a professional sports franchise in southeast Wisconsin, along with the added benefit of all of the additional private development that will also occur in the area because of the new arena, is good for the state,” he said in an email to The Freeman. “It will become an entertainment destination region wide.”

Sanfelippo said he was opposed to the measure when it was first proposed, but changed his mind after looking at the financial aspects. He added that 63 percent of the constituents contacting his office were in favor of the bill, compared to 37 percent opposed.

Allen said public-private partnerships that benefit the general welfare are worthy of consideration and the agreement had improved over the last few months.

“It might be easy to stand on some principle to oppose the funding plan. To do so, however, would be to ignore the fiscal benefits and the potential economic benefits,” Allen said, adding that those who stand to benefit the most are contributing the most.

Both Allen and Kooyenga encouraged the Bucks to utilize their resources, including players, to give back to the community and help the city of Milwaukee improve.

“The people of Wisconsin expect the Bucks to build a successful team with people of great character who will give back to the community,” Allen said. “My message to the Milwaukee Bucks: the ball is in your court.”

How they voted

Waukesha County representatives split on supporting a financing deal for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee.


■ Scott Allen (Waukesha)

■ Janel Brandtjen (Menomonee Falls)

■ Rob Hutton (Brookfield)

■ Joel Kleefisch (Oconomowoc)

■ Dale Kooyenga (Brookfield)

■ Mike Kuglitsch (New Berlin)

■ Joe Sanfelippo (New Berlin)


■ Dave Craig (Town of Vernon)

■ Cody Horlacher (Mukwonago)

■ Chris Kapenga (Town of Delafield)


■ Adam Neylon (Pewaukee)