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.”