MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN — On Thursday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled the latest plan for building a new $500 million basketball stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks, half of which would be paid for with taxpayer money, and half by the team’s current and former owners. Because stadium projects — including Milwaukee’s own Miller Park — have been known to run significantly over budget, the public contribution would be capped at $250 million.
This is exactly the amount that Governor Walker and his allies in the legislature plan to cut from the University of Wisconsin system.
Flanked by posters reading “Cheaper To Keep Them,” Governor Walker argued that building a new stadium is more responsible than repairing the old one, or potentially losing the NBA team to another city.
“The price of ‘no’ has a cost, and we believe it’s at least $419 million dollars over the next 20 years,” said Walker, as he explained that under his new plan, $80 million dollars in stadium funding would come from all Wisconsin taxpayers, and the remaining $170 million from “a variety of sources at the local level.”
“For every dollar the state invests, it’s three dollars in return,” claimed Walker. “By every measure, it truly protects the taxpayers. It’s not only important to Milwaukee, but it’s also something I can say is a good for lawmakers anywhere in the state.”
But many Wisconsinites, including economics professor Michael Rosen at Milwaukee Area Technical College, vehemently disagree.
“You could do more for the local economy by taking a plane over the city of Milwaukee and dropping $500 million dollars down. That would generate more economic activity than building a stadium,” he told ThinkProgress. “People have a fixed entertainment budget. So if they go see the Bucks and spend $60 or $80 on a ticket, that’s money they’re not using to go to the theater or movies or out to eat. It’s not new money, it’s just redistributed. That’s why stadiums have no positive impact on economic growth.” He also noted that most Bucks player don’t live year-round in Milwaukee, so “millions of dollars in their salaries will leak out of the community.”
All week, as rumors of the plan negotiated behind closed doors leaked to the public, residents voiced their frustrations.
“It’s just wrong,” Denise Brown, who lives in Ozaukee County just outside Milwaukee, told ThinkProgress. “They could have taken that same money and left it in the University of Wisconsin, where my son got a good education. And if they wanted to help the neighborhood, it could have benefitted a lot more from a job-producing factory than this future piece of blight.”
Many Republicans oppose the plan as well, and have called for it to be stripped out of the state budget and receive a stand-alone vote. The Koch Brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity’s Wisconsin chapter called the proposal a “bad deal for Wisconsin taxpayers,” noting: “Government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums.”
Milwaukee’s arch-conservative sheriff David Clarke called the plan “snake oil” and “corporate welfare.”
Others are more conflicted, citing threats from the NBA to pack up and leave if they don’t get a new stadium by 2017.
“It’s controversial but it’s going to get done,” said Milwaukee native Keith Bailey, who organized faith outreach for President Obama’s 2008 campaign. “We can’t lose the Bucks. We love our Bucks.”
County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde, who represents the Milwaukee neighborhood where the stadium will be located, told ThinkProgress he and his district have had no say in the deal. “I have not been involved in any of the negotiations. My voice has not been heard,” he said. “I’m a Bucks fan. As a son of Milwaukee, I would welcome a good deal. But the current deal we have is not a good deal. We cannot build a stadium on the backs of poor people and people of color.”
On Thursday, joined by dozens of local workers and activists, Omokunde announced a set of demands aimed at making sure that if the stadium deal does pass the legislature, his community would see a benefit both during the construction process and in the years to come.
Economics teacher and Milwaukee resident Luz Sosa laid out the coalition’s priorities. “We need a legal, binding document for the Bucks owners to pledge to hire local people from our communities and pay them a living wage — $15 dollars an hour minimum — and give them the right to unionize,” she said.
Many present at the event, including Rosen, argued that though an area deal may be inevitable, there are much better uses of public dollars. “This deal was cut by people who were born with silver spoons in their mouths,” he said. “They don’t know what it means to live in inner city districts. They don’t have contact with people like the students I teach every day from Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods, who are working two jobs and can’t get their heads above water. Our elected officials need to better look out for the people of this community, who need parks, who need social services and health care. But all of those things have had no priority. The only priority seems to be making this deal.”
The state legislature has to pass a budget, with or without the stadium funding, by the end of June.