July 29, 2015

Assembly will spend time going over Bucks arena plan

Rep. Jim Steineke

Rep. Jim Steineke

A financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena is now in the hands of the Assembly, and lawmakers there plan to spend some time going over it before deciding what to do with the package.

Assembly Republican Leader Jim Steineke (R-Vandenbroek) said Thursday that leadership plans to sit down with Democrats next week to go over the proposal, which passed in the Senate Wednesday on a bipartisan 21-10 vote, and they hope to carry over that strong support in his chamber. “I think it definitely helps that it was a good bipartisan vote,” Steineke said. “I think people understand that if the arena doesn’t go forward the state loses money. It’s just as simple as that.”

Still, Steineke said there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have philosophical issues with the proposal, which uses taxpayer funding to help cover about half the cost of the $500 million dollar arena. Despite those concerns, he believes the chamber will eventually pass a financing plan.


Senate approves Milwaukee Bucks arena financing plan

An artist's concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

An artist’s concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

With bipartisan support, the state Senate on Wednesday approved legislation that provides taxpayer funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

The bill, which calls for taxpayers to pick up about half the cost of the $500 million project, cleared the Senate on a 21-10 vote, with six Democrats crossing the aisle to support the financing package. Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) helped the lead the charge for Democratic support, arguing “we are all in this together.” The Milwaukee Democrat said the money may not be generated in lawmakers’ districts, but the revenue brought in from the Bucks does end up there and in state programs they benefit from.

Taylor’s arguments were echoed by several other Milwaukee-area lawmakers, who also pointed to the economic benefits a new arena would have for their city. Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd (D-Milwaukee) said residents of her community are “excited” about the prospect of revitalizing Milwaukee’s downtown. “I think by us doing this…project, we will see our downtown thrive again.”

Democrats were able to pull for concessions in the bill, such as a $2 ticket surcharge, after it became clear bipartisan support would be necessary to pass the legislation through the Senate. Several Republican lawmakers have voice disagreement with using state taxpayer funding to help finance the arena, which was a key reason behind Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) decision to vote against the package.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) also took issue with the threats by the Bucks’ owners and the NBA to take the team out of Milwaukee, if a new arena is not built. “When someone says give us $400 million or we will take our basketball and $6.5 million in annual income tax revenues to Vegas, you can’t call that a negotiation. It is nothing short of a capitulation by the state,” Nass said in a statement. He argued the deal simply shows that “NBA blackmail works.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly, where its fate remains uncertain. In a joint statement released Wednesday evening, leaders from both parties said “We will take a close look at the new version of the bill that the Senate just approved to determine if any changes are needed. We would like to give our members and the public time to review the updated legislation and have a bipartisan discussion. We are optimistic that a vote on the measure will take place in the next few weeks.”

Talks continue over funding for Milwaukee Bucks arena

An artist's concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

An artist’s concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

State lawmakers were once again meeting behind closed doors this morning, as the Senate continues work on a plan to provide some public financing for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. Leaders say the proposal could come to the floor of the Senate for a vote later today.

Republicans are working to drum up some Democratic support for the plan, after several GOP Senators indicated they will not support state tax dollars being used to help fund the $500 million arena. Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) said he remains opposed to that idea, arguing that it’s an issue of fairness. The Green Bay Republican points to the extra sales taxes residents of his district have been paying to help support renovations at Lambeau Field. He said his constituents question why Milwaukee residents can’t “help carry the load,” which is why he plans to vote no.

Sen. Luther Olson (R-Ripon) does plan to back the bill, which could include a surcharge on Bucks’ ticket sales to help pay for the arena. “It makes the people who go to the game pay for the stadium, and I think that needs to get done so there can be enough votes to pass this,” Olson said. “I think it’s fine.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said this morning that it’s possible lawmakers could be on the floor to vote on the bill later this afternoon. If the Senate does pass the bill, it remains unclear when the Assembly may return to take up the proposal.

Affiliate WIBA contributed to this report.

Railroad officials call for Wisconsin budget veto

PHOTO: Jackie Johnson

PHOTO: Jackie Johnson

Wisconsin railroad officials want Governor Scott Walker to veto a last-minute addition to the state budget.

The measure, approved as a part of the Joint Finance Committee’s final omnibus motion without discussion, repeals the state’s railroad trespassing law. The law allows police to issue citations to people who trespass on or along railroad tracks and corridors, primarily to prevent someone from being hit by a train.

Mark Davis with Union Pacific Railroad says the unexpected change could put public safety at risk. A person or vehicle is hit by a train in the U.S. about every three hours, while in the past five years, there have been eight trespasser injuries and 10 fatalities alone on Union Pacific property. He calls the change “very troubling for us, because we have found over the past several years that trespass fatalities are on the rise.”

State Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale says the provision started as an effort to address concerns about people trying to access fishing areas along the Mississippi River, but somehow transformed into a full repeal in the budget writing process. Plale says the fishing access issue is something they can fix without having to repeal an important law that protects public safety, either by putting in safe crossings or working with local officials. As written, he says “it opens up railroad trespass carte blanche throughout the state. I think it’s just wrong-headed.”

The state budget bill is currently being reviewed by Governor Scott Walker and his staff. He will issue his veto message when he signs the budget in to law.

Walker faces tight timeline for budget veto decisions

File photo: WRN

File photo: WRN

Governor Scott Walker said repeatedly this spring that he would hold off on making a decision about running for president until work on the the state budget wrapped up. With the Legislature passing the $73 billion spending bill earlier this week, and Walker scheduled to make an announcement Monday night, there’s speculation that the Republican governor could sign the budget before he takes to the stage in Waukesha.

If that happens, it could be one of the fastest turnarounds on a budget bill in recent memory. Todd Berry with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says most budgets have seen governors take up to several weeks to review the bill as they consider potential vetoes. Berry says the reason for that is “they’re asking state agencies, cabinet officials, the public, to all offer them…suggestions as to how to change or improve the budget.”

Lawmakers make numerous revisions to the budget bill after the governor delivers it to them in the spring. Wisconsin law gives the governor one of the most powerful veto pens in the nation, allowing the state’s chief executive to strike out changes they don’t always support.

Berry says it’s possible that Walker and his staff took advantage of a month-long stalemate on the budget. Lawmakers had already finished up most of their work on the bill at the end of June, outside of a few final changes that included transportation funding and a partial repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law that were made in just the first two weeks of July. Still, those last minute additions can be tricky, Berry warns, and there are “bound to be small errors in the way legislation was drafted…it takes time to find those.”