Use existing government funding framework
After a generation of owning the Milwaukee Bucks, former Sen. Herb Kohl sold the team to a pair of New York billionaires for $550 million — a tidy profit of $532 million for Kohl. It marks the end of an era for the Bucks, Milwaukee and Kohl, but it also marks the beginning of an important public discussion about the Bucks and their future with the state.
As part of the deal the new owners and Kohl have committed $100 million each to put toward the construction of a new arena for the team in Milwaukee. Both the new owners and Kohl say they are committed to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, but that commitment appears to be contingent on a new arena.
First off, kudos to Kohl, Edens and Lasry for their commitment to Milwaukee. As poor as the Bucks played last season (worst in the league with only 15 wins), Milwaukee is still fortunate to have one of the 30 NBA franchises and the economic value and status it brings to the city. The $200 million is not chump change. It is a significant amount of money that these men are willing to spend in Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, a new arena will likely cost more than double that amount. A new basketball arena is expected to cost between $450 million and $500 million. Implicit in the pledge of $200 million for a new arena is the request for someone else to pay for the rest of it.
There are many ways to fill the funding gap. There are naming rights, corporate sponsorships, private donations, commitments from other sports teams that may want to use the facility and even normal loans taken out by the ownership. And, of course, there is the elephant in the room — taxpayer financing for the new arena.
It has been a topic of discussion for several years, but the change in ownership and the $200 million pledge has shifted it into overdrive. Already there are those advocating for taxpayer support for a new arena for the Bucks including increasing taxes like Wisconsin did for Miller Park.
My answer to those who would increase my taxes to fund an arena for the Bucks is simple. No. Absolutely not.
There is no doubt that the Bucks are an important business for Milwaukee and for the state. There is no reason not to give them as much public support as possible within the existing powers and funding available to the city, county and state. This could include consideration of a TIF, tax concessions or possible incentives with funds already budgeted in various economic development initiative throughout every level of government. These are things that our government should be considering to encourage any business development in the state.
What we should absolutely not do is to raise taxes on the already overburdened taxpayers of Milwaukee and Wisconsin to build a building for billionaires so that they can pay millionaires to play basketball poorly.