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We’ve written at length the past two weeks about what fans can do to help advance the cause of funding a new arena that will ensure the Bucks’ future in Milwaukee for decades to come. Your calls are making a difference. Please keep up your efforts.
In this piece we are going to talk directly to the legislators on both sides of the aisle who are sitting on the fence at the moment.
Here is our advice for the Republicans
Separate Vote – Some of you are saying you might support the arena but are advocating for the funding provision to be done as a separate vote. The idea being that it would force Democrats to vote for the provision since it is safe to assume no Democrats will vote for the final State budget.
Here is the problem with that logic. While it feels good to “force out” the Democrats, by having a separate vote you are also forcing out yourself. The arena spending provision only calls for $4 million in annual debt service a mere 001% of Governor Walker’s proposed $35 billion budget. It is pretty reasonable given those small dollar numbers to include this in the budget. Do you really want to put the State through a summer of debate and rancor with the end result being a separate final vote where everyone, including yourselves now have to go on record? All based on principle?
This is a creative and well negotiated finance plan that was approved by the duly elected Governor, Mayor of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County Executive. Despite what some might suggest, it compares quite favorably to other arena funding plans. Putting it in the budget and getting this behind you also makes a great deal of political sense.
Milwaukee *#(%! – Some of you are saying to yourself that Milwaukee is getting a free ride. Their reps don’t have to vote for it, aren’t paying enough for it and they need to be held accountable. Well, they actually are being held accountable. For the full plan to work, the Milwaukee Common Council is going to need to vote to approve the City’s portion. There are elements that the County Board may need to approve as well. Further, both Mayor Barrett and County Executive Chris Abele are up for re-election. There is a lot of accountability that will have to take place on their end. And take place publicly.
Financially Milwaukee is stepping up. Residents of the County and City do pay the meals and beverage tax, will fund the parking structure and TIFs and will ultimately use $80 million of County bad debt money to fund the County portion of the bonds. None of the other 71 counties have anything like this happening to them financially. Do you really want to “re-open” that deal by bringing it to a separate vote later this summer where State Democrats will now want a full seat at the table? Do we have time to re-open the deal for months of additional debate when the Bucks are ready to start construction this fall to meet the NBA 2017 deadline?
GOP State Senator Rob Cowles has indicated that he’s not in support of the measure because the Lambeau Field renovations were paid for with Brown County funding and not State funding. While we understand the thought, that example isn’t “apples to apples” on a number of different fronts.
First, in the case of the Packers, the NFL was not saying the Packers needed a new facility or the team would be moved out of State, taking with it all their payroll, commerce and tax revenues. Unfortunately that is the case with the Bucks. Leverage matters even if we don’t like it.
If we are not able to build a new arena, the Bucks will be sold back the NBA, who can then turn around and sell the team to a group in Seattle (or other larger market) for perhaps $1 billion dollars, with the other 29 NBA owners all receiving a cut of those sale profits. The Packers situation is the most unique in professional sports in that they are owned by the community. Do we wish other sports teams has this structure? Yes, but that structure is an anachronism dating back one hundred years which most leagues no longer allow.
Secondly, how many other sporting events or concerts is Lambeau Field used for each year? The Milwaukee arena will be used only 45-50 nights per year by the Bucks. There will likely be another 100 major events there annually including Marquette, concerts, NCAA tournament games, monster truck events and adjunct large trade show conventions like the one Northwest Mutual Life runs each summer. On a per night basis, the Bucks will use the facility approximately 1/3rd of the time but Bucks ownership will contribute 1/2 the cost, which doesn’t include any cost overruns that the Bucks have agreed to be responsible for. That scenario is just not the case for Lambeau Field. We get it that the Packers will occasionally rent out the atrium for civic events but they aren’t bringing in 10,000 to 18,000 people for one hundred nights a year of non-Packer games like a Milwaukee arena would do. That is some real year round commerce folks.
Additionally, did the Lambeau expansion carry with it an additional $500 million dollars of commercial development such as what is being proposed by the Bucks owners for the Park East? We love the Packers, but their project was far smaller in scale and community impact. These are just vastly different projects with the arena being part of a much larger development for the State.
What are people’s motives? – For those representatives saying they want a separate vote, are they really wanting Democrats held accountable? Or is their push for separate vote simply a stealth way of being able to kill the arena without having to publicly, you know, kill the arena.
We all know how a particular conservative radio talk show host and his paid staff of web-bloggers have been hard at work, trying to find any angle to defeat the arena. But does his judgement represent mainstream conservatives? Or is he really the outlier? You’ve got prominent conservative talk radio personalities Mark Belling and Jay Weber among others generally supportive of the arena funding plan. And prominent legislative leaders like Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald and Alberta Darling backing the plan. Last we heard, those three were conservative heroes for helping pass ACT 10. We don’t believe they suddenly lost all their conservative bona fides overnight.
Then you’ve got the Governor, Scott Walker, who has been championing the arena. Governor Walker’s political instincts have generally been proven correct over the past decade. He sees the Bucks and the new arena as a major Wisconsin-headquartered business that provides significant tax dollars to the State. Wisconsin is open for business and he doesn’t want to lose them. Maybe you can trust the Governor and his instincts on this versus the certain talk radio host who by the way put up a poll on the arena on his website two weeks ago only to find out that 85% of the people voting supported the arena. While that poll was obviously unreliable and unscientific, it does show that maybe that talk show hosts depth of listener support on this particular issue is more vocal than it is deep. We respect Charlie, but using his own phrase, he’s decided he’s “all-in” on killing the arena and sending the Bucks packing based on his emotional feelings and not fiscal logic.
Here is our advice for the Democrats
Separate Vote – You don’t want a separate vote either on this. As noted above, the provision can be contained within the GOP-drafted budget and approved at that level. You are going to have enough of a battle making sure your friends and colleagues approve their portions in Milwaukee. Do you want to put the State through a long hot summer of arena debate only for you to possibly be the deciding vote? The Democratic “George Petak” if you will.
The interesting thing about George Petak is that twenty-years later, we all know his name and the majority of Wisconsinites treat it with reverence and gratitude. We doubt that even one percent of current Wisconsin residents could name for us another legislator who served with him in 1995. While we talk about “Petak” all the time, the irony is the guy ended up being a Wisconsin legend in a positive way. Do you want to wear the mantle of the one who killed the Bucks and the Park East project because you insisted on a separate vote on this?
But, but the budget…. We get it. There are numerous things in the State budget you strongly oppose. But you don’t have to vote for the budget, just speak positively about the arena and have your members of the Joint Finance Committee vote to include it in the budget. Instead a number of you are sulking around and rather than promoting the arena are speaking negatively of it, tying it to other issues.
We can’t solve for you all of your concerns with the State budget, but the arena issue shouldn’t be tied inextricably to your feelings about the GOP and past lost elections. Those issues are addressed by re-crafting your message for 2016 and persuading more voters of the benefits of your party’s vision and values.
Milwaukee is your single largest base – This funding plan ensures a $750 to $1 billion shovel-ready stimulus plan in a blighted area of the City that begins THIS FALL! It will produce jobs, jobs and more jobs. Many for your constituents. And a larger property tax base in the City and County to provide more services to residents.
It will also be the capstone on what we hope is the complete turnaround of the downtown area. You have a large base of young and enthusiastic potential voters who for lifestyle reasons want to move into the City. There is no other billion dollar project development waiting in the wings if the arena fails. And there is no other way to keep upwards of $100 million in out-of-State NBA revenues to continue flowing into the state year after year. This group of young voters are quickly going to be turned off to your message if old school machine politics cause the arena deal to collapse and the Bucks to leave Milwaukee.
But the State is getting all that income tax revenue…. Correct. And with it the State will have more tax money down the road to help pay for different things you support that are currently funded by the State. Further, if/when a Democrat holds the Governor’s office, you’ll have a strong fiscal engine and strong Milwaukee to help drive things.
Ask yourself if this plan benefits Milwaukee. We aren’t sure how anyone could answer no to that question. Then ask yourself if the Bucks leave on Mayor Barrett’s watch will that massive financial and civic void help the Democratic brand? Or set the Milwaukee rebirth back two decades?
We know you won’t vote for the final state budget, but it is in your best interests to publicly support this plan and help it get into the budget in the first instance. The more you mope, the more you bicker about being excluded from the initial negotiations, the more GOP representatives on the fence wonder why they should support this.
Final Thoughts For Both Parties
There is no perfect plan to get this accomplished. In a perfect world, sports teams would not be allowed to relocate and government could exit the sports facilities game. But that is not the hand we were dealt.
We do however have a pretty darn good hand to play. We’ve got a plan supported by a number of key leaders on both sides of the aisle that will allow for the Bucks to remain here for the long-term, allow for the State to continue to reap the benefits of their commerce and for the City of Milwaukee to have a downtown renaissance in the Park East.
This type of plan should be able to be inserted into the State budget and approved in the next two-weeks, without needing to hold the State hostage over partisan demands from both sides of the aisle that all sorts of other issues including world peace also be solved as a condition of arena funding approval. Does every single good idea or good bill need to be inextricably tied to every other issue in the State?
We’re watching the online community of Bucks fans rally right now as fans from very different political perspectives are coming together to support this issue. It is representative of how sports teams can and do unite communities, build bridges and create friendships and bonds.
The fact that a few vocal factions on both sides of the aisle oppose the plan tells us maybe, just maybe we’ve got a fair deal on the table. Let’s do this and move on with life. We guarantee five years from now people will not regret that we came together for this issue.
Your SOB Editor