Senate passes Bucks arena funding bill, but some concerned about Milwaukee County's end of the deal

MILWAUKEE -- The Wisconsin Senate on Wednesday, July 15th passed Senate Bill 209 -- a funding plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee. The vote was 21-10 to approve $250 million in public funding for the arena. The bipartisan agreement came with some last-minute changes -- changes not everyone is happy with. Milwaukee County is on the hook for $80 million, and that won't be funded with unpaid debt.

The most notable change to the $250 million public funding package is Milwaukee County's contribution -- $80 million after interest. It was to come from the state's collection of unpaid debt, but that has come out of the proposal at the request of Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee).

"I don`t like the optics of saying we`re gonna build an arena on the backs of people who are struggling," Senator Larson said.

Now, Milwaukee County will be left to pay $4 million over the next 20 years.

Bucks arena funding proposal

"This, in my opinion, is utterly unnecessary and massively irresponsible to taxpayers, to make a point," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele went to Madison to be part of the arena discussions on Wednesday -- cancelling a public appearance at the Mitchell Park Domes.

The plan to allow the state to collect Milwaukee County's delinquent debt, such as unpaid property taxes, got a cold shoulder from some Democratic legislators. Even the Milwaukee County Treasurer, a former Democratic legislator and county supervisor, believes it's a plan that could prey upon those trying to save their homes from foreclosure due to back taxes.

"Maybe the state could get it faster by garnishing people's wages if they're working and behind in their taxes or going into their bank accounts. If I was in the Legislature, I wouldn't want to vote to do that," said David Cullen, Milwaukee County Treasurer.

"We`re going to protect them at the cost of people who do pay their taxes and the result is a $4 million a year hole in Milwaukee County. We have a $4 million a year hole in the county budget and I haven`t heard boo about how that is supposed to get filled," Abele said.

Cullen says the $3.5 million the county already collects from those who are behind is put into a general fund. The county could use that for the arena. But that could leave a funding hole for other programs.

"The county executive put together a bad deal for Milwaukee County, which just got worse," Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve Taylor said.

Taylor says the county is in a bad position because of Abele.

"I don`t know what the county executive was thinking when he basically went to Madison and committed us to nearly $80 million over the next 20 years, but he did and now we`re stuck with it," Taylor said.

Taylor says in order to make up that $4 million budget hole, there will be cuts -- but exactly how the county is going to come up with that $4 billion is unclear.

Supervisor Taylor says the Milwaukee County Board hasn't seen the actual language of the changes to see what, exactly, they are dealing with.

The finger-pointing will continue as each side tries to figure out the next steps.

"A very difficult budget every year, just got a whole lot more difficult," Taylor said.

The county arena funding issue comes on the same day Milwaukee County supervisors talked about a $20 million accounting error just discovered -- an error that leaves the pension fund that much in the hole.

County budget talks begin in the fall.

Meanwhile, the Assembly will take up the arena funding proposal next -- but it is unclear exactly when at this point.

Assembly leaders issued a joint statement to FOX6 News:

“We will take a close look at the new version of the bill that the Senate just approved to determine if any changes are needed.  We would like to give our members and the public time to review the updated legislation and have a bipartisan discussion.  We are optimistic that a vote on the measure will take place in the next few weeks.”