October 7, 2015

Bucks arena next challenge for GOP leadership

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

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

With work on the state budget completed, the Milwaukee Bucks arena is the next challenge for Republican leaders in the Wisconsin legislature. Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said the NBA team has made some moves, and now it’s time for lawmakers to do the same.

“With Monroe and Middleton, (re-signed Khis Middleton and newly signed Greg Monroe) the new people added to the team, I think they’re going to be very competitive, and I think people will develop pride that we’ve kept them in Wisconsin,” Darling said.

The team’s future here hinges on leadership’s ability to round-up enough votes, to support a deal to build a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. “We don’t have them right now, but we will have them, I would hope, and if we don’t it would be a real shame,” Darling said.

The state’s share of the $500 million dollar project will be $55 million. If the arena is not built, the NBA will allow the team to move, with Seattle or Las Vegas as likely destinations. The Bucks’ current lease on the aging Bradley Center expires after the 2016-17 season.

“I hope that people will take a look at what’s in this bill,” Darling said. “The owners are putting in a significant amount of money, half of the cost, and what we’re going to see is a very reasonable partnership between the state, the city and county, and I think it does not put the burden on the backs of the taxpayer.”

The state Senate is expected to take up the Bucks arena legislation on Wednesday.

Transportation funding remains undecided

Governor Scott Walker has proposed $1.3 billion in new bonding for the state’s transportation needs, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday said he’s contemplating a transportation budget with no borrowing at all.

Walker now says he’s open to a combination of borrowing and scaling back road projects.

“I think in the end, realistically, what’s likely to come to our desk is a combination of both … that there would be some reduction of bonding and some delays in projects, but not an overal reduction.”

But, would he agree to slowing down the Zoo Interchange project?

“We’ll look at it,” Walker said. “I’ve, in the past, asked my department of transportation officials to make sure that we can find a way to keep that on track. They found considerable savings in the past to keep that on track and I think it’s an important project.”

Vos said members of his caucus think the level of borrowing is “way too high,” especially if the state isn’t generating any new money. Walker again said his budget has the lowest total bonding in ten years.

“We think we’ve got a reasonable approach to keep transportation projects on track going forward through what we present in our original budget.”

The governor has repeatedly said he will not support a budget that increases vehicle registration fees or gas taxes.

Bill would sunset Miller Park stadium tax

Opening Day at Miller Park (WRN photo)

Opening Day at Miller Park (WRN photo)

A pair of legislators from Racine County want to provide their constituents with some assurances, on an end date for the Miller Park stadium tax. The 0.01% sales tax used to finance and construct the Milwaukee Brewers stadium has been collected in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee and Racine counties since 1996.

“Twenty years later we’ve put more than $20 million into the stadium district, and Racine feels like it’s gotten very little out of it,” said State Representative Cory Mason (Racine-D) who is cosponsoring legislation (AB 93) with Representative Tom Weatherston (R-Racine).

“This is something that, for Racine County at least, travels across party lines,” Mason said. “Nobody has been supportive of this tax since its inception.” A Miller Park stadium district consultant said earlier this year that the tax could be retired as soon as 2018 – or as late as 2020.

“People shouldn’t confuse wanting a 20 year-old tax to sunset with a lack of support for the Brewers or what the Brewers do for the region or for the state,” said Mason. “This is about a stadium that was built in the 90s, that taxpayers continue to pay for.”

Advocates want federal funding for children’s BadgerCare

Mark Pocan, Robert Kraig, Melissa Sargent

Mark Pocan, Robert Kraig, Melissa Sargent

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote later this month on whether to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

State Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) said, under Wisconsin law, kids on the program will continue to be covered even if the bill dies in the Senate, but at a cost of $84.5 million to state taxpayers. “Us — the taxpayers of our state — will take a hit if Congress and the folks in DC in the Senate can’t figure this out.”

Sargent and Congressman Mark Pocan (D-Madison) are calling on Wisconsin’s two US Senators — Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson — to support passage of the bill.

Pocan said there’s no guarantee in the Senate, even though the bill passed through the House last month with bipartisan support. “It really was a very rare thing to happen. Not quite unicorn rare, but almost to that level. We really wanna make sure the Senate looks at that because there were some grumblings as we were leaving that it might not happen that way.”

Republican Governor Scott Walker and his health secretary also support the bill.

Funding for the program runs out at end of this fiscal year. More than 108,000 low-income Wisconsin residents benefit from CHIP, mostly kids.

A U.S. Senate vote is expected the 3rd week of April.

Vos and Walker administration at odds over further tax cuts

Speaker Robin Vos

Speaker Robin Vos

Don’t bank on bigger tax cuts from the state this year. With Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal including a modest property tax – about five dollars on the median priced home each of the next two years – Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch was saying this week that more tax cuts will be a priority, if revenue estimates come in higher than anticipated this spring.

“If money is coming in greater than we had anticipated, that should be going back to the people who are earning it,” Huebsch said during a WisPolitics luncheon in Madison “Some people will say…let’s put more money in the university. Others will say K-12 education. There will be a diverse area as to where to go.”

Huebsch’s statements appear to be at odds with how the Republican leader in the state Assembly views the situation.

“Unless we have some huge amount of new revenue that comes in over the course of the revenue estimates – a billion dollars or something like that – we’ve got fix transportation, we’ve got to figure out what to do with this reduction in the UW, and we’ve got to worry about K-12,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Thursday.

Vos (R-Rochester) said he’d like to focus this legislative session on increasing government efficiency, with an eye towards a “significant tax cut” in the next session.