Walker Recommends State Borrowing Plan for a New Milwaukee Bucks Arena

Jan 27, 2015

The Bradley Center no longer meets the Milwaukee Bucks' needs

In a highly anticipated announcement Tuesday, Gov. Walker proposed using a jock tax to help build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

For months, the team, the business community and political leaders have been debating where to construct a basketball complex and how to pay for it. What was unknown, was whether the state would agree to be a financing partner.

Tuesday, Walker offered his answer with a plan called, “Pay Their Own Way.”

Under the proposal, the state would borrow $220 million to help build a new arena to replace the Bradley Center. Walker says the amount is based on how much money the state anticipates collecting in increased income taxes from Bucks players and visiting NBA teams.

“I think it’s arguably the most fiscally conservative idea in the country for a professional sports team. It is a free-market approach to say we’re gonna help the Bucks stay here and pay their own way,” Walker says.

The NBA has told the Bucks’ owners to build a better arena by 2017 or the league will move the team.  Walker says if the team left, the state would lose nearly $10 million per year in income tax revenue. And, he says there’s a safeguard in his plan – if the Bucks’ owners sold the team, they’d have to pay off the state’s existing debt.

“There’s absolute security for the taxpayers. There’s no new taxes. There’s no draw on existing revenues. And there’s no exposure in the future because if they sell it, they gotta pay off what they would otherwise be obligated for the taxpayers to pick off. So I think it is a win, win, win,” Walker says.

The Bucks’ new owners have already pledged $100 million for the project, and former Sen. Herb Kohl says he’d thrown in another $150 million.

So, the governor says the project would have what it needs to move forward.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, says a new arena for the Bucks would build on $5 billion developers have invested in downtown Milwaukee over the past decade.

“This will continue the momentum. And I think we’ve had deep experience going back to Miller Park, if we look around the country today, best practices, this is the most fiscally buttoned downed decision I’ve seen a public entity make investing in a new arena,” Sheehy says.

In a statement, Bucks President Peter Feigin said, “Gov. Walker’s support brings Wisconsin closer to creating a state-of-the-art venue that will benefit the entire state.”

The Bucks’ owners have not yet announced a proposed site for the arena, but they hope to break ground on the project by the end of this year.