Quest for "yes" votes: Assembly Democrats debate arena funding bill

MADISON -- Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly spent much of Wednesday, July 22nd in Madison. The focus of their talks -- the upcoming vote on a Milwaukee Bucks arena funding bill. A vote on the bill is set for next Tuesday, July 28th.

Republican leaders say it will take more than a dozen "yes" votes from Democrats in order to pass the bill.

"We met (Tuesday) with the Majority Leader and he indicated they'd love to have 15 votes, obviously. The other question is, does it pass by a 2-1 margin like it did in the Senate or does it squeak by -- and we're not sure," said Rep. Peter Barca, Assembly Minority Leader.

Bucks arena funding proposal

Under the bill, taxpayers would provide $250 million to the arena project. That includes $55 million from Milwaukee County -- $80 million after interest. That money was slated to come from the collection of unpaid taxes and fees. The Senate struck that part from the bill amid concerns from Milwaukee Democrats that it would hurt poor people the most.

Republican Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) says the remaining options are no better.

"It ties their hands and you're left with two options: you either cut services or you raise property taxes countywide," said Sanfelippo.

Sanfelippo says he will ask his party's leaders to put the debt collection plan back into the bill.

"What we're talking about primarily are people who willfully, knowingly, and purposefully just won't pay their bills because they know they can get away with it," said Sanfelippo.

Any new amendments from the Assembly would go back to the Senate for approval.

"It's the fourth quarter right now and that makes everything a little tough. It's hard to get in touch with a lot of people and it's also hard to put something concrete together on this short a time period," said Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) said.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee County Executive's Office confirms Chris Abele has been in touch with members of the Assembly over the past few days -- hoping to find a way to amend the bill so the county's share of arena funding does not come out of state aid.

Meanwhile, Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) has scheduled a town hall meeting to discuss the budget and the Bucks arena funding bill. That town hall meeting will take place on Thursday, July 23rd from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Greater New Birth Church on West Silver Spring Drive.