After weeks of debate and disagreement around public funding, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena Tuesday, which now awaits Gov. Scott Walker’s signature before it becomes official.
The proposed $500 million new Milwaukee Bucks arena plan contributed to a delayed passage of the 2015-17 biennial budget. Current team owners and former owner, Herb Kohl, pledged a collective $250 million, but disagreement over Walker’s proposal to publicly fund the remaining $250 million price tag led legislative leaders to remove the plan from the original state budget and push the arena in a separate bill.
Without a new arena, Wisconsin risked losing the Bucks to another state. The Senate passed the bill 21-10 and the Assembly passed it 52-34 Tuesday.
Accounting for interest, state, city and county residents will pay a total of $400 million in tax dollars for the arena over the next 20 years.
Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, voted in favor of the bill Tuesday.
“Making sure that Milwaukee remains a major-league city helps all of us and I am confident that the arena project will serve as a catalyst for economic development, investment and job creation for people in southeastern Wisconsin,” Barca said in a statement.
In June, Gov. Scott Walker announced a new slogan, “Cheaper to Keep Them,” a proposal that called for the state to spend $80 million over 20 years on area construction costs. According to Walker, letting the franchise leave Wisconsin would cost the state more that $400 million in lost revenue, WKOW reported.
The arena not only caused a hostile divide between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, but also between lawmakers and Walker.
According to the Washington Post, Walker’s inability to deal with the arena had Republican lawmakers who usually side with him questioning his budgetary priorities.
Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, voted against the bill Tuesday.
“State taxpayers should not be subsidizing the construction of professional sports facilities,” Knudson said in a statement.
Wisconsin must begin construction by the end of 2015 in order to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee, according to Bucks President Peter Feigin. This timeline is on schedule now that the bill has passed the Legislature.
In face of bipartisan disapproval earlier this month, Department of Research and Policy Chief Economist, John Koskinen, urged elected officials to consider future prosperity the Bucks could bring the state in a video .
“We will clearly have an almost three-to-one return in terms of what we have to put forward and what we would get back…the NBA in its own self will more than pay for the deal,” Koskinen said.
Koskinen identified the negative effect losing the Bucks would have on the entire state by comparing it to Oklahoma — where state GDP dropped $130 million when it lost its NBA team. After regaining the team, Oklahoma GDP gained back the money.
The Bucks revealed images of the proposed stadium in April, emphasizing the positive economic transformation the stadium could bring not only to Milwaukee, but the entire state.
The controversial stadium garnered national attention and John Oliver, the HBO’s host of “Last Week Tonight,” tackled the issue on his show, saying the Bucks needed to “settle down.” He expressed disbelief that Wisconsin could be “transformed by a new arena.”
Tamarine Cornelius, an analyst with the Wisconsin Budget Project, said there’s no guarantee the new arena will be positive for the state and said she believes it likely won’t be.
“In general, public investments in sports arenas don’t turn out to have very good return on those investments,” Cornelius said.
Walker is expected to sign the bill, though it is not known when.
Nina Kravinsky contributed to this article.