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Walker Signs Bucks Arena Plan Into Law

Financing Deal Continues To Draw Skepticism From Milwaukee County Officials

Kelly Wang/WPR

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill outlining a financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena Wednesday morning that includes $250 million in public backing.

Walker and other project stakeholders first introduced the financing package in early June as a possible amendment to the proposed state budget. The $250 million public investment would be paid for by the state, the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the Wisconsin Center District. A further $250 million would come from private investors.

After a prolonged period of negotiation among lawmakers, the plan underwent some tweaking in the state Senate before ultimately getting legislative approval as a standalone bill.

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Walker has said it’s important to build a new facility and ensure the Bucks stay in Wisconsin because “it’s cheaper to keep them.” He said the bill will keep the income tax the Bucks players are paying now in Wisconsin, amounting to a total of nearly $300 million in revenue over the next two decades.

At a press conference at the State Fair Park Wednesday, Walker said the arena will also benefit the state as a whole.

“Just like the fair is an attraction in the Milwaukee area, it benefits the entire state of Wisconsin. And this arena is not just going to be a benefit to Milwaukee, but to the entire state of Wisconsin as well,” he said.

Some Milwaukee County officials are skeptical of the plan, arguing the cost to the county will squeeze other services. The arena plan calls for a $55 million contribution from the county, which will ultimately amount to $80 million once bond interest is included. The county will pay for its share by reducing the aid it receives from the state by $4 million a year for 20 years.

Walker was asked Wednesday about the county’s potential budget holes.

“Again, that’s why we brought all the players together to the table,” he said. “We’re doing our part to make sure we protect the $6.5 million that would otherwise be a hole in the state budget, so really our focus has been on the state’s impact.”

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has been looking for the state to increase debt collection in the county and give the county most of those funds, but the county’s treasurer and some supervisors said they don’t believe the state would be able to collect much more cash from people with bad debt.

Bucks President Peter Feigin said the team awaits the Milwaukee Common Council’s vote on the proposal Sept. 22 and that he hopes ground will be broken for the new arena by November.