Wisconsin political leaders held what had been announced as their “final” closed-door meeting to negotiate a Milwaukee Bucks arena deal yesterday, and … they didn’t finalize anything. But they’re close! Really they are, because they say so!
“The number of issues is narrowing,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Tuesday.
“There’s still work to be done, so there’s no white smoke. But I feel confident we’ll be able to work out the remaining issues,” he said.
We’ve heard this before, needless to say, but now things are really coming down to the wire: The state legislature’s joint finance committee is set to issue its budget proposal by the end of this week, so if the Bucks want to have their plan considered this legislative session, they really need to get it done tout de suite.
And what do we know about what this eventual plan will look like? The four Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporters (Tom Daykin, Patrick Marley, Crocker Stephenson, and Daniel Bice) who are filling the shoes of the late Don Walker provide some clues:
- A “source” indicates that the state would sell $93 million worth of bonds to help finance the arena, paying them off with existing surcharges on car rentals, hotel rooms, and restaurant food and beverage sales in Milwaukee County. Those taxes currently go to the Wisconsin Center District, which mostly uses them to pay off construction debt on its convention center, but there’s about $8 million left over for the city’s tourism and convention marketing budget — which would just barely be enough to pay off $93 million in bonds if the city is fine with promoting tourism from now on by holding up a big “COME TO MILWAUKEE WE HAVE CUSTARD” banner at nationally televised Bucks games.
- Milwaukee would provide $35 million for a new parking garage, and get back some unspecified parking revenue in return. It would also kick in $12 million in future property taxes from new development around the arena via a TIF district.
Assuming that the state would still be putting in something on the order of $150 million to be repaid out of NBA player’s future state income taxes (which is assuming NBA salaries continue to rise at a hyperinflationistic rate), that would be $290 million total in public money, which should be enough to make Bucks owners Wes Edens and Mark Lasry happy.
Whether it will make the state legislature happy, especially in a year when Wisconsin is going to have to be cutting everything else to the bone to fill a budget gap, remains to be seen. The big worry here is that the last-minute nature of the deal could end up working in its favor — if it gets dropped into the budget on, say, Saturday morning, that won’t leave much time for either state legislators or local journalists to read and digest what’s looking to be an extremely complex plan before it has to be voted up or down. The last time we saw one of these two-minute offense sports subsidy pushes, it resulted in Minnesota’s e-pulltabs fiasco. Which isn’t to say that the Bucks plan is necessarily as bad as that one (I mean, nothing could be as bad as that one), but the way things are going, this plan may be law before anyone has figured out what it means, which is never a good way to run a railroad.