The Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce announced the Milwaukee Bucks joined the nonprofit as a platinum founding member, bringing the membership to more than 400.
“We couldn’t be prouder to welcome the Milwaukee Bucks as our newest platinum member,” Jason Rae, executive director of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said in a news release. “The Milwaukee Bucks are a true hometown team, focused on engaging all members of the community. We cannot wait to work with the team to grow a pro-fairness business community in Wisconsin.”
Bucks president Peter Feigin stated, “We’re thrilled to partner with the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber as their newest platinum founding member. The Milwaukee Bucks are committed to building an inclusive fan experience that truly engages members of the LGBT community. As an organization, inclusion and diversity is a core pillar of who we are. We look forward to a strong partnership with the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber over the years to come.”
Platinum membership with the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber is one of the highest levels available. Membership includes a seat on the Chamber’s Corporate Leadership Advisory Council.
“Reaching 400 current and active members in under four years exceeded our expectations and we are so grateful to do that with the Milwaukee Bucks. We know that this will be a rewarding partnership for all,” Rae said.
The Milwaukee Bucks have signed a 30-year lease with the public entity that will own the team’s new arena.
The Bucks will pay at least $1 million annually to rent the arena from the Wisconsin Center District. Those lease payments will total $45 million over the term of the lease. The district board approved the terms of the lease agreement Wednesday.
Construction can now begin on the $524 million arena that will be located just north of the Bucks’ current home, the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Groundbreaking is set for June 18, with the arena expected to ready for the start of the 2018-19 season.
The arena will also host Marquette University basketball games, concerts and other events.
A new ownership group bought the Bucks from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl two years ago. The NBA had said that the team would need to build a new arena or run the risk of having the franchise moved.
“Personally I know we’re very proud to fulfill the commitments that we made to Sen. Kohl when we bought the team, to keep it in Milwaukee, to the people that are here,” co-owner Wesley Edens said before the Bucks’ season finale on Wednesday night against Indiana. “It’s an amazing day.”
The team will be responsible for operating, maintenance and capital repair expenses. The agreement called for the Bucks to deposit $60 million into a capital improvements fund for the arena during the term of the lease.
A public financing package approved last year covered $250 million toward arena construction, while current and former Bucks owners have already committed $250 million. The Bucks have agreed to pay for any cost overruns during construction.
The agreement also includes a non-relocation clause. Asked about a roughly $550 million penalty that the Bucks would pay if the team did move during the lease, Edens said, “I think it’s fair to say we’re not going anywhere … They built it with a financial penalty that is so punitive it would be not something you would consider, so it’s a firm commitment.”
A failed presidential bid, a new job for Rep. Paul Ryan and a capital city on edge were some of the most notable stories in Wisconsin in 2015. A look back at those and others:
SCOTT WALKER: The Republican governor spent the first half of the year hop-scotching across the country laying the foundation for his presidential run, visiting early primary states and courting Republican donors. He officially jumped into the race in July but floundered in a crowded field that included real estate mogul Donald Trump. Less than three months later, with poor poll numbers and the prospect of dwindling donor support, he was out.
PAUL RYAN: Wisconsin’s other national political figure found himself under pressure to take over as House speaker after John Boehner abruptly announced plans to quit the job. Ryan appeared to want nothing to do with the job before relenting and being elected in October.
MADISON UNREST: The state’s capital city was on edge for weeks after Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old biracial man, died in a confrontation with a white police officer in his apartment building in March. Robinson’s death sparked waves of street protests, but District Attorney Ismael Ozanne ultimately decided that no charges were warranted against Officer Matt Kenny.
WISCONSIN DRIVERS: The state’s drivers got the green light to hit the gas _ on some roads, anyway —J after Walker signed a bill giving state transportation officials the power to bump the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 in some places.
JOHN DOE INVESTIGATION: For nearly three years Walker endured ugly headlines as the state Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee prosecutors pursued a John Doe investigation _ a procedure similar to a grand jury proceeding where information is tightly controlled _ into whether his 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups on issue ads. The state Supreme Court finally halted the probe in July, ruling such coordination is legal. Three months later, Walker signed a bill prohibiting prosecutors from using the John Doe against politicians.
YOUTH PRISON INVESTIGATION: The state Department of Justice was asked late in the year to examine allegations of misconduct at the facilities that house youth prisoners in Irma. Allegations at Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills School include sexual assaults, physical confrontations and child neglect. A top corrections official and the Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills superintendent were relieved of their duties.
MILWAUKEE ARCHDIOCESE BANKRUPTCY: A federal bankruptcy judge approved a reorganization plan for Milwaukee’s Roman Catholic archdiocese in November that called for distributing $21 million to hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims. The plan splits most of the money among 355 people. Another group of 104 people will get about $2,000 each. Archbishop Jerome Listecki apologized to victims in court shortly before Judge Susan Kelley approved the plan, saying he believes the archdiocese has turned a corner.
TOMAH VA MEDICAL CENTER: Wisconsin Veterans Affairs Medical Center Chief of Staff David Houlihan was put on leave in January while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs investigated allegations of overprescribing narcotic pain medications and retaliatory behavior at the Tomah facility. In August the VA’s inspector general said deficiencies in care led to the death of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski in 2014. Houlihan was fired in October, a month after the center’s director, Mario DeSanctis, was dismissed.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM: A tough year for the UW system included a $250 million budget cut and a tuition freeze. State lawmakers also removed tenure protections for UW professors from state law, though system regents were considering restoration of some protections in a process expected to last into the spring.
LABOR UNIONS: Not a good year here, either, as Walker signed a bill making Wisconsin a right-to-work state. That means workers can’t be required to join a union or pay union dues, a change likely to erode membership. The state AFL-CIO is suing, arguing the law is unconstitutional.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: The NBA team is getting a shiny new $500 million arena, with taxpayers committed to half that under a bill signed by Walker. The new building may open for the 2018-19 season.
SUPREME COURT UPHEAVAL: Longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson was bounced from that post by the court’s conservative majority after voters approved an amendment letting the justices pick their chief rather than going by seniority. Justice Pat Roggensack was made the new chief. Separately, 77-year-old Justice Patrick Crooks died in his chambers in September, giving Walker an opening to appoint conservative-backed Rebecca Bradley to finish his term. She’ll have the advantage of incumbency in the spring election for a full 10-year term.
MARTY BEIL: The often brusque leader of the Wisconsin state employee labor union died in October at age 68. Beil was the face of the union for years and was at the center of the losing fight against Walker’s signature public union restrictions.
RUSS FEINGOLD’S RETURN: After losing the U.S. Senate seat he’d held for 18 years to Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, the Democrat announced in May that he would run against Johnson in 2016.
The Milwaukee Bucks spent more money lobbying the Wisconsin Legislature than any other organization during the first half of the year, as the NBA team was pushing for approval of a new basketball arena, a report released Friday showed.
The state elections board, which oversees lobbying, reported that the Bucks spent just over $482,000 on lobbying through June. The next highest was the Wisconsin Hospital Association at nearly $379,000 followed by the state chamber of commerce at nearly $349,000.
The Bucks’ lobbying paid off. The Legislature, on bipartisan votes, ultimately approved spending $250 million in taxpayer money on a new stadium for the team. Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure into law earlier this month.
The amount spent by the Bucks doesn’t include lobbying done on the arena bill in July, which is when it passed both the Senate and Assembly. Those figures will be reported in January.
The budget, which dominated legislative debate in the first half of the year and into mid-July before it was passed, elicited more than 48,500 hours of lobbying. That comes to 367 hours for each of the 132 lawmakers, or two hours each and every day from January through June for every member of the Legislature.
Hours of lobbying accounts for far more than just in-person arm-twisting and includes such things as research and outreach to the public.
The two most heavily lobbied topics within the budget were Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to change how medical assistance and long-term care services are delivered.
The first and third most-lobbied bills, outside of the budget, were Republican-backed Assembly and Senate measures to eliminate the prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum salary for construction workers on government projects.
Changes to that law were ultimately approved as part of the budget.
The second-most heavily lobbied bill outside the budget was one making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, where private-sector employees can’t be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. The Legislature passed that in March, and Walker signed it into law.
Those three bills received 5,575 hours of lobbying time — or about 42 hours for each of the 132 lawmakers.
Overall, lobbying organizations spent $18.5 million through June. That is an increase of 9 percent over what was spent in the same time period in 2013, the last time a state budget was debated. Spending was still lower than the $23.9 million spent in 2011.
The total number of hours spent lobbying on all issues was 123,522, or 935 hours for each member of the Legislature. There were 598 lobbyists working for 718 registered lobbying firms.
Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t any closer to reaching a deal on a new state budget, with no agreements yet on how to pay for transportation projects or whether to back a financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said yesterday.
“I don’t know where we’re at,” Fitzgerald said before the Senate met to consider a bill that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Democrats, who condemned the bill for the suffering it will cause women, called it an attempt to distract voters from the GOP’s floundering budget process.
Fitzgerald said there’s no agreement yet on whether to repeal or scale back the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires workers on certain public projects to be paid a wage based on a complex formula that critics say inflates their pay because of an over-reliance on union salaries. Backers of the law warn that overturning it will cause a free-fall in construction wages and quality.
Republican leaders have been trying to reach a deal with GOP Gov. Scott Walker on several unresolved issues in the two-year state budget. The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee has not met since May 29 to finish its work, and no meetings are scheduled.
The current budget runs through the end of June, but state government will continue operating into July under terms of the old budget if Walker has not signed a new one by then. Walker, who had urged lawmakers to get the budget done far ahead of July, has said he will not announce whether he’ll run for president until after he signs the budget.
“The governor gave us a very complicated budget,” said Republican Sen. Rob Cowles, of Allouez. “And complicated budgets don’t get done quickly.”
One of the biggest unresolved issues is how to pay for ongoing transportation projects, including the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee and the expansion of Interstate 39/90 and I-94. Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion over two years and has refused to consider tax or fee increases.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is among some Republicans who support increasing vehicle registration fee hikes in order to lessen the amount of borrowing. But he said yeterday that it is no longer an option, given Walker’s opposition. Instead, Vos said he supports cutting borrowing for roads by at least $800 million, but no exact figure has been settled on.
“We’d like to have a significant reduction,” Vos said at a news conference.
Vos, in a meeting last week with Walker and Fitzgerald, floated the possibility of doing no borrowing — a move that would delay road and bridge work all across the state. Walker said Friday he would agree to that, but it wouldn’t be his preference.
It is unknown how much of the proposed construction is necessary. A federal court recently ruled against U.S. dollars going toward a proposed highway-widening project approved by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The court said the project was based on false data, and land-use advocates have performed studies showing that most of the state’s road-building projects are unneeded.
But Fitzgerald said yesterday that doing no borrowing was unrealistic.
“I think a mix is where we end up, I just don’t know where that ends up,” Fitzgerald said.
Part of the discussion is how much flexibility to give WisDOT in deciding which projects would be affected by a funding reduction, he said.
Both Fitzgerald and Vos have said they don’t have enough votes to repeal the prevailing wage, and instead they’re looking at making restrictions. State Sen. Duey Stroebel, a Republican from Cedarburg, said last week that he wouldn’t vote for the budget unless it repeals the prevailing wage for local units of government.
“The caucus is really all over the place,” Fitzgerald said on prevailing wage. “I know they would like to coalesce around something, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Fitzgerald said senators have been talking about the Milwaukee Bucks arena financing deal — which relies on $250 million from taxpayers — and no decision has been made on whether to consider it outside of the budget, a move that could delay its passage.
Vos said Walker was personally calling on lawmakers to push them to support the Bucks deal.
Gov. Scott Walker, for the second time in less than a week, said Monday that he won’t agree to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to break a legislative impasse over how to pay for highway projects.
“I’m going to keep my campaign promises,” said Walker, who didn’t specifically promise not to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees, but did say he wouldn’t let the overall tax burden go up in his second term.
Most of the highway projects proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation are actually pork for road builders, who are generous campaign donors. A federal judge recently recently ruled that WisDOT used vastly inflated projections to justify a major widening project on Highway 23, where traffic is way below WisDOT’s figures.
Fleecing taxpayers to keep road builders happy is an ongoing pattern in Wisconsin, said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. He said money for bogus construction projects are the primary reason that local roads in the state are in such disrepair.
When Walker was re-elected to a second term in November, he promised swift action on the budget given a larger Republican majority in the Legislature.
But the process is taking just as long this year as it did in 2013. That year the budget committee finished its work on June 5 and Walker signed it on June 30.
Figuring out how to finance all the unnecessary highway projects is one of the last pieces of the state budget puzzle to fall into place this year. The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee had hoped to finish its work on Friday, but couldn’t get it done. It has yet to set its next meeting date, which was expected to be its last.
Once the budget clears the committee, it heads to the Senate and Assembly — both controlled by Republicans — for votes later this month. Walker has said he won’t announce a presidential run until after he signs the budget into law.
Republicans lawmakers are balking at Walker’s proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for roads by issuing bonds, but they haven’t been able to come up with an alternative the governor will back.
“We need to come to an agreement with the governor,” Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the budget committee said Friday. “He’s pretty much taken all of our options off the table and we don’t see the bonding out there as a great option.”
Walker didn’t budge Monday.
“I made it clear that while I support a vibrant transportation system, I don’t support raising revenues be it a gas tax or a vehicle registration fee without an offsetting reduction in taxes somewhere else in the budget,” Walker said. “And so far that hasn’t been in any of the proposals.”
Another sticking point in the budget is a financing deal for a new $500 million-plus arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing unidentified sources, reported last week that the deal would include $250 million from taxpayers and $250 million from current and past owners of the Bucks.
Progressives view the arena deal as yet another fleecing of taxpayers, who will shoulder for far more of the costs than its supporters have revealed. Nearly every day, buried costs to taxpayers are uncovered by reporters examining the deals’ details.
Walker said he hopes to have a deal on the arena by the end of the week.
Polling shows that voters strongly oppose public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena complex. Yet elected officials forge ahead with the project, which could put taxpayers on the hook in myriad ways that lie buried beneath piles of hype and denial.
New Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan have pledged $150 million to the project and former owner Herb Kohl has pledged $100 million. The new owners now are pressuring elected officials to contribute at least $250 million from taxpayers to complete the complex, which will cost at least $500 million, according to estimates.
But throw in financing costs, tax incentives, property-tax exemptions and other freebies, and the public could be on the hook for up to $1 billion in subsidies.
While the owners promise Milwaukee residents pie-in-the-sky rewards in the form of increased economic activity and more jobs, the payoff equation is lopsided. The new venue would handsomely reward the Bucks, a for-profit business, with free rent and a large percentage of every dollar collected from all enterprises located within the expansive proposed complex (in 2014, the Bucks received 41.6 percent). But the taxpayers, who would bear the lion’s share of expenses, would receive no ownership stake in the team — a detail that belies the project’s billing as “public-private partnership.” This “partnership” entails taxpayers investing in a rapidly depreciating asset (a building) that supports a greatly appreciating asset (a major-league franchise).
City, county costs
The Bucks want the city and county to kick in from $50 million to $100 million in direct cash, free land and buildings and other subsidies. The county has indicated it would donate vacant Park East land. The proposed arena site, which is due north of the Bucks’ current home, is on vacant BMO Harris Bradley Center land, which already is owned by the public. (The Bradley Center owns almost all the land between North Fourth and Sixth Streets and State Street to Juneau Avenue.)
Mayor Tom Barrett recently proposed giving the Bucks additional land — the former Sydney Hih site — at Third Street and Juneau Avenue, valued at $1.1 million. He’s also proposed providing infrastructure support worth $17.5 million through a tax-incremental financing district and a block-long, multi-use parking complex.
That 980-space parking structure generated $920,000 in parking revenue last year for the city. It’s in a prime location — directly across from the new arena site and next to the tony Moderne residential high-rise and a dining/nightclub district. It includes two large storefronts. The city built the structure in 1988, reportedly for $25 million, and officials say it’s meticulously maintained and debt-free.
But a proposed Bucks plan shows the parking complex demolished and redeveloped. Replacement parking facilities would be built elsewhere, adding to arena costs.
The city would forgo the nearly $1 million in annual income that it currently receives from the existing facility.
The parking garage offers an excellent case in point of how ever-increasing taxpayer subsidies have crept into the project. The Bucks proposal encompasses 27 acres, nearly twice the Bradley Center’s current footprint. But the city-owned parking complex is not needed for an expanded arena footprint, when there’s vast undeveloped acreage both west and north of the proposed arena site, much of it already publicly owned by the Bradley Center. The value of that public land is not even mentioned as part of taxpayers’ contributions.
Gov. Scott Walker wants the new arena to follow the model of the Bradley Center — a state-owned facility managed by a tax-exempt authority. That would cost an estimated $450 million over 30 years in lost property taxes, according to a report by Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee. The public also may well end up covering ongoing management costs and maintenance shortfalls. The city currently pays the Bradley Center $175,000 annually for its upkeep and state taxpayers have paid $10 million for arena repairs since 2009.
Lease terms give the Bucks a share of every concession, along with catering, suite leases and merchandise sales for all arena events, not just Bucks games. In fiscal 2014, the Bradley Center paid the Bucks $4.7 million on gross revenues of $11.3million. The Bucks also receive any Bradley Center surpluses, while the public authority struggles to cover deficits (and has not kept up).
As a mechanism for funneling state money into the project, Walker has proposed issuing $220 million in state bonds. Legislators believe the governor’s plan ultimately will cost $380 million after tacking on interest. They propose limiting bonding to $150 million.
‘Stars in their eyes’
Even when subsidies are disguised and direct taxes avoided, economists say that public financing is nearly always a losing proposition. Nonetheless, for myriad reasons, municipalities continue the handouts.
Hope and hype that an arena will spur more nearby development were expressed when the Bradley Center was built in 1988. Mostly, that did not happen, although downtown development has been booming since the recession ended.
Now Lasry and Edens, who are big-time real estate developers, say they will invest in private development, including a nearby team practice facility. A 2013 City of Milwaukee report noted that sports economist Andrew Zimbalist warns “professional sports have been historically unreliable when it comes to making such local investments.”
Although cities often provide tax incentives to businesses to encourage redevelopment, subsidies often take many years to be recouped. In contrast, huge sports-venue footprints exempted from property taxes deplete a budget permanently. And, it’s not uncommon for taxpayers to pay much more for a sports venue than is initially negotiated (as, famously, with Miller Park). Some cities are still paying for sports palaces when they’re being pressured to replace them.
Journalist Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes, a book and website about sports-venue funding, reports that one reason governments keep giving sports teams sweetheart deals is that public officials are completely outmaneuvered when negotiating with pro-sports reps. Basically, teams ask for the moon, knowing they can always backtrack.
However, public officials often simply acquiesce, surprising even hard-bargaining owners. Jim Nagourney, a 30-year negotiator of sports-venue deals, told deMause that cities are “always poorly represented” and often “get stars in their eyes.” In the “most scandalous” deal Nagourney helped negotiate, he told deMause, “We put in all these ridiculous things and the city (St. Louis) did not have the sense to say no to any of them.” Nagourney says this always happens, because cities use in-house attorneys to negotiate these deals. Team officials understand all the issues and where the money is — concessions, advertising, TV rights and so on — while city attorneys do not.
Teams threatening to leave town has become a routine bargaining chip, even though teams rarely follow through with the threat, according to deMause’s decades-long research of sports venues. DeMause calls it extortion and says the gambit works very effectively, since cities do not call team owners’ bluffs.
In Milwaukee’s case, Bucks owners keep dangling the NBA’s threat of relocating the team. Seattle is reportedly eager to get another NBA team. DeMause says that politicians’ fear of losing a team usually trumps public opposition and empirical data by economists.
Politicians often go to great lengths to get new sports venues financed. For example, in a deal negotiated in 1996 by former Brewers owner and MLB Commissioner “Bud” Selig, the City of Milwaukee agreed to give $1 million annually to Miller Park. This payout continues, even though the city receives no property taxes from the stadium, the Brewers or any ancillary enterprises, including parking and franchised restaurants.
Many economists assert that team owners should finance their own new digs. The owners of several teams, including the San Francisco Golden State Warriors, are doing just that.
Some NBA teams are now valued at $2 billion and stratospheric TV deals will reportedly make every NBA team worth at least $1 billion within a decade. With those numbers, why aren’t government leaders demanding that Bucks owners invest much more, if not the full freight? And why not ask Herb Kohl to donate more? He bought the team for $18 million in 1985 and profited from free rent and eye-popping revenue shares before selling it last year for $550 million. Other arena tenants, including Marquette University and AHL’s Admirals, pay hefty rent — in MU’s case, it’s $20,000 per game.
Mayor Barrett has offered to relinquish at least $1 million a year in parking and ownership of prime real estate. However, that lost revenue may soon be forgotten (out of sight, out of mind), and thus not become a source of annoyance to city officials who have to make up for it. As long as public subsidies are not paid outright in cash, they’re easier to rationalize and accept. But the public costs are the same.
A 2013 report by the City of Milwaukee’s Legislative Reference Bureau noted “proponents of public financing for sports venues have often abandoned the ‘economic impact’ argument and contended the value of sports venues is the added prestige gained by the host city from having a professional sports team in town.”
Just don’t try to take that warm-and-fuzzy feeling to the bank.
Thumbs-down on state arena funding
Only 17 percent of Wisconsin voters back proposed state funding of $150 million to support a new arena complex for the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a recent Marquette University Law School poll. In the Milwaukee metro area, opposition to the funding stands at 67 percent, compared with 88 percent of residents outside of Milwaukee.
For the record
“The highest-cost (stadium) deals include Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, where the National Football League’s Colts play; Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, home of the Bengals; and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park in baseball. In those cases, the public share of costs, once ongoing expenses are included, exceeds 100 percent of the building’s original price tag.”
— Aaron Kuriloff, quoted in Bloomberg News reviewing Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilitiesby Judith Grant Long.
The first votes on Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year state budget will come this week, but the most difficult decisions, including whether to reduce cuts to public schools and the University of Wisconsin, aren’t expected to be made until later in May.
Far from sailing through the Republican-controlled Legislature, key portions of Walker’s budget have met with stiff bipartisan opposition as the Republican governor ramps up his likely presidential bid.
The $300 million cut to UW, a $127 million reduction in K-12 funding the first year and $1.3 billion in borrowing for roads are the most frequently mentioned of Walker’s proposals that Republicans say they want to change.
But none of those are on the agenda for the first meeting of the Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday.
Its work instead begins with debate over further cuts to funding and the responsibilities of the secretary of state’s office, transferring control of the independent commission that investigates judicial misconduct to the Supreme Court and eliminating a council that advises policy makers on court policy and other issues.
Most of the public attention, and opposition voiced at a series of public hearings and listening sessions the past two months, focused on different issues, many of which Republicans have said are dead on arrival.
Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the budget committee, said last month that Walker’s cost-saving proposal to force those in the popular prescription drug program SeniorCare to first enroll in Medicare Part D, where they would likely pay more for their medications, won’t pass.
Walker’s $220 million borrowing plan to pay for a new Milwaukee Bucks stadium is too rich for most Republicans, who are working with Walker on other less costly state financing plans.
Other problem areas include: taking policy-setting power away from the Department of Natural Resources Board; replacing the system that provides long-term care for the elderly and disabled with a new model under which the state would contract with large insurance companies; and paying for expanding the private-school voucher program by taking money from public schools that lose students.
Republicans have also sent strong signals that Walker’s plan to give the UW System independence and autonomy from state laws won’t pass as proposed. Instead, the Legislature is looking at reducing the size of the budget cut while granting UW some flexibility from state oversight to help it save money.
Both sides are anxiously awaiting updated tax collection forecasts, expected early in May, which will then largely dictate how dramatically Walker’s proposed cuts to schools, UW and elsewhere will be scaled back.
“So much is really waiting on those revenue numbers, it’s hard to know” how much Walker’s proposals could change, said Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos last week.
Republican leaders have repeatedly said their top priority is to reduce Walker’s proposed cuts for K-12 education and UW. Under Walker’s budget, public school districts would be left with about $135 less to spend per student over the next two years.
Walker is prioritizing cutting property taxes. He does that by giving schools more aid, but not increasing the revenue limit so they can spend more, which has the effect of lowering property taxes. Under Walker’s plan, property taxes on the typical home would go down an average of $5 a year each of the next two years.
Rep. Gordon Hintz, a Democrat from Oshkosh who is on the budget committee, argued it’s not worth gutting public schools’ budgets for just $5 a year in property tax relief.
Formalizing a decision already hinted at in 2013, the National Basketball Association included as a condition of the Milwaukee Bucks’ sale that a new arena be constructed to house the team. If a new arena was not constructed, the league could buy back the team, potentially resulting in Milwaukee losing the Bucks as our professional basketball franchise.
In the subsequent months, ideas have circulated and rumors spread about the specifics of constructing a new arena. The discussion about a new arena involves business, community, political and financial leaders. Some details, such as the likely location of the new arena, have been released to the public. However, with an expected price tag of upwards of $500 million, the financing of the new arena remains very much an open question.
A substantial amount has been secured from team ownership, private investors and former team owner Herb Kohl. However, there will almost certainly be a need for some sort of state funding as part of a larger financing deal. Enter GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
Appearing on a Sunday morning talk show UpFront with Mike Gousha, Vos said, “As I said this week, having one of the Bucks new owners go and greet Barack Obama on the tarmac in the middle of the Mary Burke campaign probably wasn’t the wisest decision.”
Vos has made numerous similar statements that he will withhold state aid for the arena because of new co-owner Marc Lasry’s support for Democratic political candidates. To be clear, Lasry has never made any contribution to any Wisconsin Democrat. He is not a partisan politician. However, he has donated to national candidates, and that is enough for Vos to hold a massive development project hostage.
Vos is threatening to hold up any public financing for a new arena as a way to send a message to Wisconsin’s business community: It’s OK for businesses to be politically involved, as long as they’re involved for Republicans.
Vos has never spoken out against Jon Hammes, the developer leading the redevelopment of the Park East freeway in Milwaukee who’s a donor to Republican candidates and conservative causes. Vos has been silent about the millions of dollars in campaign contributions made to Republicans by recipients of state aid from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Vos was only too happy to lead the charge in favor of a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin after the company donated $700,000 to Republican candidates.
Vos’s actions are petty and disgraceful. His transparent pay-to-play politics damage Wisconsin’s image for other businesses considering expansion into Wisconsin. Our business leaders deserve a better partner in state government than someone who imposes a political litmus test on all state aid to business.
The debate over plans to build a new arena in Milwaukee is understandable. The implications of the eventual plan are far reaching and will impact the city and the region for decades. There are many legitimate issues on all sides, and finding a way forward will require compromise and collaboration. There is no room for political extortion. There is no room for Vos’s petty games.
Boss Vos crossed a line. Every Milwaukee elected official, community leader, and business leader should denounce him, and his attempts to undermine Milwaukee for his own political ends.
Saul Newton is a research assistant at the progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.