Wisconsin’s top political leaders held another Bucks arena funding get-together yesterday, and how did it go?
“Every meeting we get a little more information and get a little closer,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic, but there’s still work to be done. There’s absolutely still work to be done,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.
“I’m hopeful in the next week or two the discussions we had today will lead to a positive outcome for the arena. We think it’s important for the state as a whole, not just for Milwaukee and the Bucks,” Gov. Scott Walker said.
Okay, guys, I know that your job is to write down whatever Important People say, even if it’s essentially meaningless, but seriously, you can’t do better than this? At the very least, ask the people coming out of these meetings about specifics of what’s being considered in terms of public money for a Bucks arena — no, they’re probably not going to tell you, but then at least you can print “those at the meeting declined to provide funding details,” instead of just writing “everyone is hopeful!” every few days.
The only journalist to break out of the stenography trap, it looks like, was actually our old pal Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who got someone to go off the record about what was actually being discussed behind closed doors:
“Everything about money was talked about in ranges,” said one person who was briefed on the meeting. “The sides spent a lot of time going over the same material.”
That’s not much, but it’s something, and it at least tells us that contrary to what the pols are saying, they’re actually a long way from hammering out specific details of who’ll provide how much of what.
Right now, we mostly know what we knew a couple of weeks ago: the state would borrow an undecided amount of money from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands and repay it by siphoning off Bucks player state income taxes; the city would kick in $25 million in infrastructure work and some free land; and there could be a tax-increment financing district to kick back property taxes on the Bucks’ adjacent development site. Plus, of course, the arena would get a full property-tax exemption, worth about $180 million. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine, unless you’re actually one of those people in the negotiating room, in which case your guess is significantly better than mine.
The assembled journalists of Wisconsin can make up for this somewhat if, once the plan is finally released, they subject it to a tough critical analysis to determine whether all the dollars being shuffled around make any sense for taxpayers’ interests. I’m anticipating something more like this, though, which makes it all the more important for hard questions to be asked now, when there’s plenty of time and column inches to fill. It’s almost like the elected officials are just holding these meetings to give reporters something else to write about — hey, wait a minute…