The owners of the team, which include billionaire hedge-fund managers in New York and one of Walker’s top campaign fundraisers, had threatened to move the Bucks to another state if the taxpayers’ money did not come through. Mr. Walker argued that the team would leave the city without a new arena, saying losing the team would cost the state million of dollars in taxes it collects on players and staff salaries, along with other perks that come with having a professional basketball team in the state. The issue sparked political instability in Wisconsin, while some conservatives who normally support Walker objected to what they called “crony capitalism”. Now, the generous public funding is raising concerns on conflicts of interest.
According to the approved legislation, taxpayers will pay half the cost of the $500 million arena, plus tens of millions in interest and future tax breaks over the next 20 years. In return, Bucks stays in Milwaukee. Bucks owners have pledged to pay $150 million for the project and former owner Herb Kohl promised $100 million. The longtime Bucks owner Kohl sold the team for $550 million to Lasry and Wesley Edens, both of whom manage massive hedge funds in New York City. The state will kick in $80 million and local governments will cover the rest. The planned basketball arena would be built north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, with the current owners planning an additional $500 million for development around the arena and the area surrounding it, including the land where the Bradley Center currently stands.
“This is an important day for the state of Wisconsin,”Walker said at the Milwaukee State Fair Park. “It’s not just important for Milwaukee, but the state as a whole. We think this is a good solid move as a good steward of the taxpayers’ money here in Wisconsin.”
The argument has yet to pass several political hurdles, especially at a time when the state has slashed funding for most local school districts and cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years. It took nearly six months for Walker to rally enough support for the deal in the Republican-dominated legislature. But voices from across the political ground are already working to trash the plan, saying investing in private stadiums is a terrible move, arguing the team’s Wall Street billionaire owners should bear the burden since they’ll be reaping the profits.
Governor Walker, who became a political phenomenon after his kick-off rally vaulted him to the top tier of presidential campaign, said the decision was made for the good of the state and that he would not be influenced by those within his own party who oppose it, after he signed the legislation into law Wednesday morning. “I do what’s right. When the chips are down, I’m not intimidated by anyone. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on the left or the right or anywhere in between, I’m going to do what I think is right.”