Gov. Scott Walker has announced a plan to borrow $220 million to help pay for a new basketball arena in Milwaukee, a move that could help keep the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team from moving cities.
The new “Pay Their Way” plan, which Walker unveiled on Tuesday morning, will create a Sports and Entertainment District in the area to handle the state-issued bonds. The money would be released for the project only once the rest of the funding for the new arena gets secured.
Walker said the state-issued bonds would be paid back through expected growth in taxes from National Basketball Association players.
“The $6.5 million we collect today will stay permanently in the general fund. All that above the amount goes into paying off the bonds,” said Walker.
Walker said he's not really trying to divert future tax revenue to help the Bucks. Rather, he said the team will leave in a few years if a new arena isn’t built, and that the state would then be stuck with more maintenance payments for the 27-year-old Bradley Center.
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
Walker announced the move at a news conference he held at the offices of the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce. That business group has been asking the public sector to add to the $250 million the current and past owners of the Milwaukee Bucks are promising to pay toward a new basketball arena.
Walker said he's taking a conservative estimate of NBA revenue growth. But state Rep. Cory Mason, who wants to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee, said Walker may be ignoring other costs triggered by a new arena. The Racine Democrat also questions why Walker is helping the Bucks when also talking about budget cuts for the University of Wisconsin System.
“If money were no object, I think it would make sense,” said Mason. “But I also want young people to stay in Wisconsin. And right now we’re losing young families and millennials to other states because we’re not investing in higher education.”
The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the Koch brothers, has also criticized the governor's plan. It says that funding sports arenas should not be the state's responsibility.
The governor said his bonding proposal for the Bucks will be in the state budget plan that he'll fully unveil next week.