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View from around the state: Lawmakers right to scrutinize arena request

A local sales tax in Milwaukee and four surrounding counties paid for Miller Park, home of the Brewers.

A Brown County sales tax — approved by county voters — helped renovate Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

So where is the financial commitment from the Milwaukee area to help build a new arena for the Bucks? And how much will that be?

Those questions need answers — along with the total cost and scope of the project — before the state pledges any financial support.

Republicans who run the state Legislature are right to press team and local officials for more detail, and to scrutinize $220 million in state borrowing the governor has included in his state budget for a Bucks arena.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says his city will pay for streets, utilities and parking around the new arena, perhaps by creating special tax districts. That sounds promising. But it needs to be quantified.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele suggests the county could donate land. That might work, too, if such a donation proves substantial.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said this week he wants the owners of the Bucks to kick in more of their money, which seems reasonable. So far, team owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry have pledged $150 million. That’s a lot.

But how much of the project will that cover? The public hasn’t seen a firm price tag.

A team source pegs the cost at between $450 million and $500 million, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Yet the team just last week named an architectural firm, so construction estimates are fluid.

Former Bucks owner and retired U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has pledged $100 million, which is wonderful.

So what’s left? And what if any burden will fall on state taxpayers?

Gov. Scott Walker suggests state income taxes charged to NBA basketball players who use the new arena can cover the $220 million the state would borrow for the project.

Maybe. But that assumes player salaries will continue to soar, and that the NBA will reap considerably higher profits on TV contracts in the future.


State lawmakers should be cautious and ask a lot of tough questions before committing any tax dollars.

The Milwaukee Bucks don’t mean as much to Wisconsin’s identity as the Brewers and Packers. Yet all of Wisconsin should want to keep the Bucks in our state, which will require a new arena, according to the NBA.

The Bucks help brand Milwaukee as a big-time city, especially when the team is winning. The Bucks have a big economic impact on downtown Milwaukee and surrounding communities.

Those who benefit the most from having a professional sports team in the state’s largest city bear the most responsibility for making a new arena become reality. They need to step up in significant ways before state taxpayers ever will.

— Wisconsin State Journal

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