Senate passes funding bill for Milwaukee Bucks arena in 21-10 vote; Assembly up next

MADISON -- 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.

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.”

The vote came after weeks of tough negotiations.

"This deal has taken a little work -- but the Bucks are big bucks for the state of Wisconsin," Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said Wednesday in Madison.

Both Senate Democrats and Republicans were pleased a deal was reached.

"This will lift our spirits -- lift our optimism," Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said.

Earlier Wednesday, Senators reviewed changes to the arena funding bill. Those changes left Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett disappointed, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele downright livid.

Bucks arena funding proposal

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 trying to deal with a foreclosure or court fees so if Abele wants to do that, he can do that on his own," Senator Larson said.

Abele wasn't happy to learn the debt collection issue was taken out of the bill. He said doing that would create a $4 million annual gap from money the state would withhold for arena payments.

"Because that`s now been eliminated by Senator Larson, we`ll have a $4 million per year hole in the county budget and I haven`t heard boo about how that`s supposed to get filled. This, in my opinion, is an utterly unnecessary and massively irresponsible to taxpayers way to make a point," Abele said.

Abele says that money would not come from the poor. It would come from those who haven't paid taxes.

"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," Abele said.

Another controversial aspect of the arena funding proposal is the $93 million in bonding through the Wisconsin Center District. Because those tax dollars are tied up for another 13 years, the total cost of those bonds to taxpayers is more than $200 million.

"I have said all along, from a fiscal standpoint, if we want to make sure this is a success, we have to make sure there`s an adequate funding base for the Wisconsin Center District," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Barrett says a ticket surcharge ($2 per ticket) is now part of the bill. 75% of that money would replace the Wisconsin Center District bonding -- with the rest going to the state's general fund.

Barrett says he wants all of the ticket surcharge fees to reduce the Wisconsin Center District bonding.

The Bucks arena funding plan now heads to the Wisconsin Assembly.

The Milwaukee Bucks have issued this statement to FOX6 News on the passage of the Bucks arena funding plan:

"Today's vote is a significant step forward in our collective effort to build a new sports and entertainment district in Wisconsin. We appreciate the bipartisan leadership in Madison for bringing this transformative partnership one step closer to reality. We're optimistic that this financing package will receive support in the Assembly and look forward to working with state, county and city officials."

Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) issued this statement:

"I'm happy to report, the Milwaukee Bucks are here to stay.

Passing a bi-partisan plan that creates good-paying jobs, creates a destination entertainment district where there is nothing, keeps a sports team in our city, without new taxes, is a slam dunk.

Without a new arena, Milwaukee would lose at least $130 million in income tax revenue over the next 20 years and an additional $169 million in income tax revenue growth over that time. More than that, Wisconsin would lose the prestige of being the home of a major professional sports franchise.

Today's bi-partisan agreement is a once in a lifetime opportunity and will benefit everyone in the state. Every dollar the state invests in this project will deliver two dollars in economic growth. Just like the investment the state made in Amazon, the Bucks Arena plan is an exciting investment in the future of our state."

Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) issued this statement:

“Keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee is a priority for me. While Democrats didn’t get to write the deal and were only invited to the table late in the 4th quarter of the game, I am pleased that we were able to work with our local units of government, colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and the Bucks organization to pass a deal that builds a new arena in Milwaukee, keeps the Bucks in our state, will provide the state with good paying jobs, and will be a catalyst for growth in our community.

In addition to providing our neighbors with the opportunity to enjoy the great experiences that professional sports and our downtown area have to offer, the Bucks generate a great source of revenue for our state and county. This revenue will be something that we can invest in our shared values like education, the university system, or expanding access to quality health care.

This stadium is not just a home for the Bucks. The arena will be a cultural hub to host events ranging from Sesame Street Live, to huge Broadway productions like the Lion King, along with concerts from some of world’s most talented musicians. If the Bucks were to leave, the Bradley Center simply would not have been sustainable to maintain, and we would lose all of these other cultural opportunities for our city, along with the tax revenue generated by tourists spending money locally. This deal allows Milwaukee to stay on the map.

While some will argue that this is not the best use of public money, I would like to remind them that there is a false choice between building the arena and addressing education cuts, gun violence, or other important issues. We can’t fall into Walker’s divide and conquer mindset where one priority is pitted against all others. We are capable of collaborating and tackling them each on their own merits. The Park East will not only see a new stadium, but new restaurants, hotels, apartments, and other development, which will be a net benefit to our community. At a time when Wisconsin is losing business after business, has stagnant wage growth, along with the fastest shrinking middle class in the country, this deal must get done. When I look at this bill, improved by collaboration from Milwaukee Senators and Representatives, I believe it is ultimately good for the long-term vision of our city and our state.”

Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) issued this statement:

“After months of gridlock on the Bucks arena deal, Democrats finally sat at the negotiation table for the first time yesterday. I think it’s no coincidence that just one day later, we passed this deal through the State Senate. Today’s deal eliminates the mandatory controversial local debt collection and eliminates the irresponsible zero coupon bond for the Wisconsin Center District. This is about more than basketball; it’s about economic development. Taxpayers who would have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in player income tax revenues won today. While this wasn’t a perfect deal, I look forward to continuing to work in the future to make it better.”

Senator Nikiya Harris Dodd (D-Milwaukee) issued this statement:

“Today, we had an opportunity to revitalize Milwaukee’s downtown, create jobs, and bring our communities together. I believe the new arena will provide much-needed economic opportunity for my district, as well as allow for residents from across the state to experience the vitality and opportunity that Milwaukee has to offer.

“In addition to providing a home to many Milwaukee sports teams, this arena will also allow Milwaukee to host more conventions, concerts, and other events that will benefit Milwaukee and its surrounding areas. I am thankful to those who voted for this investment in my district.”

Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) issued this statement:

"Over the last several weeks, hundreds of my constituents have contacted my office or spoken with me at events regarding a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.  People on both sides of the issue have made well intentioned and thoughtful arguments for their point of view and these conversations have enhanced my understanding of the issue.

After reflecting on these conversations and reading a wide array of articles about both this specific arena project and the impact of other arena projects across America, I have decided to support the final deal to build a new arena in Milwaukee.

The final deal strikes an important balance between limited public funding and a strong financial commitment by the team owners, as well as those attending events at the arena in the future.  By making an investment at the state level, we can take advantage of the rising salary cap in the NBA and capture an expanding income tax base.  This will allow us to fund priorities like K-12 education and infrastructure in future budgets without increasing taxes on middle-class families.

I would not have supported state financing for an arena without a meaningful commitment from the team owners and those who plan to attend games.  That is why I was happy to see the financial investment by the team as well as the inclusion of a ticket surcharge in the final deal.

I look forward to the Milwaukee Bucks continuing to be an important partner for the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin."

Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) issued this statement:

“The ball is in the Assembly’s court now.  Today, the Senate once again led the way and stuck with the blueprint for success that has worked this entire session.  If you count and have the votes…you take the vote,” stated Senate Assistant Majority Leader Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee).  “This vote is bittersweet for me.  This is my last vote in the State Senate and I am humbled to have been a part of this body, but I am extremely proud that my final vote will impact the revival of Milwaukee and provide a great economic opportunity in Southeastern Wisconsin.”

Since joining the senate I have prided myself on working with all of my colleagues, both Republican and Democrat.  To have my final vote pass with bipartisan support is something I am very proud of,” said Farrow.  “I sure hope that the Assembly can also pull together votes from both sides of the aisle to get this package passed and we can keep our Bucks in Milwaukee.”

Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) issued this statement:

"The Milwaukee Bucks leaving was worse for taxpayers across the state of Wisconsin. The NBA players’ income tax and ticket surcharge will more than pay for the state portion of the new arena.

Without a new arena, we know Wisconsin would lose at least $6.5 million in revenue from players’ income tax and taxpayers will lose any revenue growth coming from new salary cap increases. The taxpayers have been subsidizing current Bradley Center improvements. To date, Republican and Democrats have approved $16 million in bonding for Bradley Center upkeep. This subsidy would increase without a professional sports tenant.

I am confident this package will get Wisconsin out of the arena business. Required by the proposal, the Milwaukee Bucks and other tenants will be responsible for all arena upkeep or cost overruns. Again, the proposal passed today is in the best interest of my constituents and taxpayers throughout Wisconsin."

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) President Tim Sheehy issued this statement:

“Today’s strong bi-partisan vote for the arena moves Milwaukee and the state forward toward a more vibrant future. Thanks to the leadership of Democrat and Republican Senators working together, we are one step closer to a transformative project that will create tens of millions in new revenue for the state, thousands of new jobs, and hundreds of millions in new economic development in downtown Milwaukee.

This is a game changing moment for Milwaukee and the entire state,” said Sheehy.   “I am extremely pleased that legislators on both sides of the aisle politically were able to come together around this exciting vision of a brighter future.

I think the vote in the Senate sends a strong endorsement from lawmakers in both parties and from around the entire state,” said Sheehy.   “I am optimistic that the state Assembly will follow the Senate’s lead and add their approval to this plan as soon as possible."

Marquette University President Michael Lovell issued this statement:

"Today marks a significant day for citizens across our city, region and state as we can all be proud that we’ve taken a major step forward in ensuring a new arena will be a part of the fabric of Wisconsin for generations to come. We applaud the bipartisan vision, drive and collaboration of our state Senate to make this state-of-the-art facility become a reality.

The vision for a new arena has always been much greater than basketball. It will make our region a better place to live, work, play and retire and spur development in ways we are only starting to imagine. We are incredibly excited about the future."

The Wisconsin Democratic Party issued this statement:

“With the extreme divisiveness and polarization we’ve seen in Wisconsin over the past few years, bipartisan cooperation has become practically non-existent. So it’s incredibly encouraging that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working together now that the disastrous budget is over to reach an agreement on building a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

This project is good for workers, it's good for Milwaukee, and it's good for Wisconsin. Thanks to Senate Democrats for working with Republican leadership in crafting a deal that will create thousands of family-supporting jobs.”