The Wisconsin state Assembly voted Tuesday to spend $250 million in public funds on a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, a deal that both Republicans and Democrats lauded as good for the state and city.
No one spoke against the measure, which passed on a bipartisan 52-34 vote as Bucks coach Jason Kidd and team president Peter Feigin watched from the gallery. They made the rounds before and after the roughly hourlong debate, posing for pictures with both lawmakers and members of the public.
“The Bucks will not only remain home in Wisconsin, but we’ll soon begin a transformative economic development project that will help revitalize our community and region,” Feigin said in a statement issued by the team.
The bill, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan 21-10 vote earlier this month, now heads to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. Walker, a Republican presidential candidate who was campaigning in Philadelphia at the time of the vote, has been working with lawmakers to reach a deal and was expected to sign it.
Walker called it a “good deal all the way around” while speaking with reporters at Pat’s King of Steaks, one of two Philadelphia cheesesteak institutions he visited Tuesday.
“For us, it’s what we’d hoped for,” Walker said. “A good, bipartisan vote. It had strong votes in both the Assembly and the Senate. A lot of hats off.”
Both Republicans and Democrats said the deal was good for Wisconsin because it would keep the Bucks and the income taxes paid by NBA players and staff in the state. Under the plan, taxpayers will be on the hook for $250 million initially, but that commitment will grow to $400 million with interest over 20 years. Current and former Bucks owners are contributing another $250 million.
There is also a $2 ticket surcharge.
Opposition, like support, crossed party lines. Opponents argue taxpayers should not subsidize the cost of a private arena, especially just weeks after the Legislature passed, and Walker signed, a budget that cuts money for other public assets, including a $250 million reduction to the University of Wisconsin.
“Government shouldn’t subsidize professional sports facilities, particularly state governments,” said state Rep. Dean Knudson, of Hudson, one of 20 Republicans who voted against the plan.
Fourteen Democrats also voted against, but all of the opponents were silent during debate, which came in an unusual summer session of the Legislature called specifically to pass the Bucks bill.
“I’m ready to go home,” Knudson said. “We’re here in the summer. It wasn’t going to change anything.”
Supporters said the deal would help Milwaukee and the state’s economy, while ensuring the team doesn’t move elsewhere. Feigin told the Legislature’s budget committee earlier this month that if construction on a new arena didn’t begin this year, the NBA would move the team, possibly to Las Vegas or Seattle.
“It is cheaper for us to pass this bill than defeat it and have the team leave,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.
He noted that there is no long-term commitment from the state to operate and maintain the arena and the Bucks and team owners are responsible for maintenance and cost overruns.
The $250 million initially coming from taxpayers includes $47 million from the city of Milwaukee in the form of a parking structure and tax increment financing. The remaining $203 million comes from bonds to be paid off by state taxpayers, Milwaukee County and the extension of existing local taxes on hotel rooms, rental cars, and food and beverages.
Several backers of the plan said it was better than Walker’s original proposal, which called for the state to borrow $220 million. “This is really a very proud day, not only for Milwaukee but for Wisconsin,” said Democratic Rep. Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee. “This will really, truly help put Milwaukee on the map.”
Associated Press writer Michael Sisak contributed to this report from Philadelphia.