Scott Walker LOVES funding basketball arenas, but HATES funding teachers

No major Milwaukee Bucks arena news today (unless you want to count the head of the Wisconsin Center District calling the arena plan that would fire him “uncivilized,” which is a new epithet, if nothing else), so instead I direct you to my latest essay for the Washington Post’s online op-ed page, in which I dig into how Gov. Scott Walker has a bit of a double standard for what should be evaluated as “economic development”:

What governors like Walker are after here is something more: Selling sports projects as an investment that will pay off in jobs, in tax revenue, in the magic elixir known as revitalization. It’s an approach, it’s worth noting, that never gets applied to other budget line items, including some of Walker’s favorite targets. No, the University of Wisconsin system isn’t going to move to Seattle if it loses funding, but its students might — not to mention that all those unemployed English professors are going to have to seriously cut down on their grocery bills if they’re forced to take jobs at Applebee’s.

And when you’re done with that, check out the always-excellent Pat Garofalo at US News, who has a long update on how Walker’s position on the Bucks arena is pissing off some conservatives with a more consistent position on government spending. (They’re agin’ it! Unless, you know, it’s going to their pockets.) Not that this is necessarily going to hurt Walker politically — Wisconsin Republicans are still trying to figure a way to endorse the governor’s other budget ideas while not endorsing the arena spending, and presidential campaign donors probably have bigger fish to fry than what one candidate is doing for one local sports team — but as Garofalo writes, the arena plan is “unlikely to be a good investment of political capital if he has to twist arms to get it passed.” We shall see.

27 comments on “Scott Walker LOVES funding basketball arenas, but HATES funding teachers

  1. Hatin! So much hatin’ on the Gov right now. You’d think that people would be grateful to someone who’s trying to stop Milwaukee’s descent into Detroit 2.0.

  2. I would think a new Bucks stadium will make things worse, not better for Milwaukee. Doesn’t this whole thing have a chance of fan backlash? Boycotting the new Bucks arena because it’s unnecessary & a total waste of taxpayer money?
    Shame on Governor Walker for wanting to spend public money on a new Bucks arena.

  3. Walker didn’t consult with teachers or administrations over Act 10, he didn’t consult with U.W. personnel about cutting its funding or trying to find ways to solve the budget problem, he didn’t consult with aging and disability experts before he wrote his budget cutting so many services, he won’t meet with his own constituents unless they have a huge check in their hand for him. Even Republicans are beginning to see that he has an enormous ego that is not accompanied with integrity, character, or any sort of competence. Scott Quisling Walker had the money for the arena on the table had he approved the Kenosha casino project. Instead, he chose to suck up to Senator Joni Ernst and her Iowa Christian Taliban and killed the project.

  4. Would a sports team leaving really destroy a city? Has Quebec City or Winnipeg frozen into the tundra? Is Atlanta the version out of the Walking Dead with no NHL? It’s such ridiculous hyperbole but I guess some people like Ben Miller buy it. Too bad it’s the rest of us that have to pay for it.

  5. Ben, it’s not hating on someone to call them out on a bad move that will cost tax payers hundreds of millions. This is one of the best aspects of a free press.

  6. “Would a sports team leaving really destroy a city? Has Quebec City or Winnipeg frozen into the tundra? Is Atlanta the version out of the Walking Dead with no NHL?”
    Has Seattle collapsed after the SuperSonics left? Nope. People found other things to do & spend on. If I was the Brewers or Admirals, I’d be happy if the Bucks were gone – less competition / more money around to pool into.

  7. Marty T – Roger that, although the last time I saw it LA was horrible! Deserted streets framed by the ruins of collapsed buildings, shattered bridges and pavement everywhere because of no NFL-with only Dwayne Johnson to save them!

    Wait, sorry, my bad, that was “San Andreas”. So, OK, no effect whatsoever.

  8. Milwaukee has a long and proud manufacturing history, which was decimated in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

  9. Willow32: WTF are you talking about? Did Walker campaign on a promise to consult with entrenched blowhards before taking action?

  10. The original Tom: It’s haterism because the WaPo op-Ed page couldn’t give two craps about the arena. they’re using Neil (an acknowledged and respected expert in the field of arena finance) to bury Walker because they don’t like his policies on education reform.

  11. Mp34 & Marty T: I’m a huge Bucks fan and I want them to stay, but of course their departure wouldn’t kill Milwaukee. The “hater” accusation is because Neil and others are using the arena to trash Walker because they oppose his reform agenda.

  12. Lest we forget, the Bucks owners’ vision for Milwaukee is for them to be granted, for free (actually $1), 25 acres in downtown for an arena plus “ancillary development.” These “masters of the universe” are on the verge of becoming the “Master Developer” of prime acreage in a city they fly into on a private jet and fly out of within hours. Brew City is just a place where they’ve bought a sports team, a small-potatoes investment in the grand scheme of their $4 billion in combined portfolio. They also touch down for quickies in Glendale, AZ (Coyotes); Columbus, OH; Orlando, etc. etc., before snoozing in Manhattan.

    Their contract with Milwaukee County would give them up to 15 years to develop 10 of those free acres (other deals are not yet revealed). It would let them hold their cards and wait till the market raises the value of this “distressed asset” enough for them to make a killing off it. Then they will subcontract with a developer who will actually put a shovel in the ground. Till then, they’ll rake in money from using much of the land as a parking lot.

    Many in MKE are ga-ga over the “new princes,” believing the fairy-tale promises. Even our governor is smitten! Thanks, Neil, for trying to put all this adolescent gushing in perspective.

  13. Milwaukee Native: I agree with everything you say (though the Bucks’ owners will develop a piece of that 10 acres into a practice facility, which believe it or not will be an economic engine for the area), but I still support it.

  14. Ben: For the record, I didn’t have Walker in the headline originally, because I think he’s just symptomatic of what lots of governors do. If Andrew Cuomo had come out with these kinds of doofy charts instead of Walker, I would have happily written this about him.

  15. Ben – Providing a huge subsidy to a sports team while slashing public spending seems ridiculously hypocritical. If he was slashing spending and criticizing the team for looking for a handout then he would look like a fiscal conservative but that’s not what he’s proposing. Therefore, all the criticism is justified and trying to defend him by calling those pointing out the obvious hypocrisy names is no argument at all, just name calling.

  16. (That’s the WashPost headline. The headline here always had Walker in it, but mostly for the Fannee Doolee reference.)

  17. Marty: How is it hypocritical to endorse spending only on policing/military & infrastructure (which a modern arena would be considered part of)? In fact, Walker’s position is so UNhypocritical that I’d wager that Neil would have predicted that Walker would support arena subsidies before any of this debate ever began.

  18. Basketball is infrastructure but universities aren’t? That’s an interesting perspective.

  19. An arena cannot reasonably be considered public infrastructure. Why you ask? Because it’s used by a private entity for private profit.

    Supporting subsidies to private entities like a sports team while slashing spending at a public university is the height of hypocrisy. That Neil might have been able to predict such hypocrisy before the debate doesn’t mean that Walker is acting in a highly questionable way.

    The government should not exist to transfer the public’s tax dollars to the rich for no benefit to the average citizen.

  20. I’m baffled how one could argue/justify that the taxpayer/government subsidizing a billionaire sports team owner is a “good investment” for the community. Sports economists have CONSTANTLY shown through relatively easy to understand number crunching that the ROI on these deals (or cities awarded the Olympics) is NONEXISTENT. It doesn’t even require a “higher math” like calculus to understand. There isn’t a deal out there where a community came out better after tax payer funds went to the construction of a sports stadium…and now we have owners with balls the size of elephants that write conditions into their deals that require continued community re-investment, should new technology develop in the future, so the stadium remains a “benchmark” and doesn’t become obsolete…all of course at tax payer cost.
    Walker is a plutocrat who is continuing to carry water for the other plutocrats. He’s just like Rahm Emmanuel here in Chicago, who is carrying water for plutocrats that wanted a DePaul University basketball stadium and hotel & convention center on the lakefront that NO ONE, not even DePaul students or faculty want built!

  21. Neil was not the first by far to pick up on Walker’s antipathy toward education at every level. That Walker is a college dropout doesn’t help. Besides repeated, drastic defunding, he also tried to gut the whole philosophical underpinnings of the UW System for a century (“The Wisconsin Idea”) and is trying to gut tenure through wording in the budget. Not only might students flee the state, profs are reportedly sending out resumes like mad.

    The WaPo’s position on Walker is irrelevant. Walker’s already dropped to about 41% approval in Wisconsin, but everyone here knows he’s only counting votes in Iowa. In the unlikely event he became the GOP candidate, Walker would have trouble winning the state, per recent polls. Wisconsin has not given its electoral votes to a GOP prez candidate since 1984.

  22. Ben, As with every new building, there will be some construction jobs and purchase of goods to build a practice facility and new corporate offices for the Bucks. But permanent jobs brought to the site already exist, mostly in the vicinity. More substitution effects. The Bucks mere presence does not justify county taxpayers handing over land appraised at about $3 million. The Bucks are simply acting greedy because they think they can get away with it, and no one is bargaining hard on behalf of the public.

    The county made a nonprofit university (MSOE) pay full market price for similar land, for a project with way more economic impact than a practice facility, which will often be vacant. It’s simply corporate-welfare cronyism–a billionaire’s son giving more freebies to three billionaires.

  23. Today’s Lesson – Maintaining Objectivity

    -Owners of a private sports entity seeking to cram hundreds of millions of public dollars into their pockets = Brave, independent capitalists, deserving of not only our money but our undying praise, as well as an occasional fellating.

    -University teachers and administrators/aging and disability experts = “entrenched blowhards”

    Here endeth the lesson.

  24. Ben, do you have any examples of a basketball practice facility being an “economic engine”…anywhere?

  25. Ben, the point of this website is to call politicians out when they spend public money on stadiums for private businesses, stadiums that often don’t even benefit the fans. This spending of the publics money is even richer when the politician makes his name by talking about the benefits of smaller government. Then you, and he, claim that such Keynesian projects keep a city vibrant, unlike Detroit. It is not hating to point out they probably don’t. The new Tiger stadium didn’t, nor the new NFL stadium ( though that might not have been in Detroit).

    I share your concerns about teachers and other public unions, but there are much smarter projects to borrow money for than stadiums, or, not borrow the money a all. Plus, The Bucs already have a stadium!

  26. Walker will never see the White House. While the “homer” Wisconsin press seems to be giving him a pass for this hypocrisy, the national press will shred him over this issue. This was a stupid move on his part, but the man is addicted to rich backers and their wads of money, regardless of their demands.