Walker promises alternative plan on new Bucks arena

Gov. Scott Walker says he is working with state lawmakers on a new plan to fund a Milwaukee Bucks arena and promised reporters “a viable alternative” will be announced within the next week or so.

“We’ve been meeting the past few weeks on alternatives,” said Walker, who added he’s working with the city and county. “In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be meeting with all of you in the press.”

Walker originally proposed borrowing $220 million to help fund the arena with increases in so-called jock tax revenues used to pay off the bonds. But lawmakers have balked at the price tag, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said recently Walker’s plan was “pretty much dead.” The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a memo last week that the proposal could cost the state as much as $488.4 million to pay off. The report also showed the state could expect an estimated $514.9 million in additional jock taxes coming in through 2046-47.

“We believe the initial proposal we put on the table would not cost the taxpayer one cent,” Walker said. “Our goal is to have any plan be the one that doesn’t take anything away from the base that’s already in the budget and not to add any new taxes.”

Fitzgerald has said he’s working on an alternative to Walker’s plan that would lower or even eliminate state bonding, and speculation has ramped up recently that Fitzgerald is looking at an option that would involve the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. More than a decade ago, the agency agreed to buy bonds for the renovation of Lambeau Field with the idea that doing so would make it cheaper for the state than selling them on the open market.

Fitzgerald did not return a message left with his Capitol office on Monday. Speaker Robin Vos has previously said he’d be more comfortable with bonding in the $120 million to $150 million range and today urged the city and county to put more into the project.

“The speaker has been clear in his position,” spokeswoman Kit Beyer said. “In order to keep the Bucks here, the locals need to step up more. He looks forward to learning what they can offer when they meet this week.”

A spokeswoman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett did not immediately respond to a Monday request for comment on Walker’s remarks, while County Executive Chris Abele said in a statement he is actively working on a solution.

“We have an opportunity to see nearly a billion dollars worth of ancillary development that can create thousands of jobs, generate millions in future property tax revenues, increase property values in surrounding areas, and transform the largest missing piece of the downtown development puzzle in a way no one would have imagined even a year ago,” he said. “Everybody involved wants to see this get done and I believe that we will find a way to do so that respects local taxpayers.”

Walker spoke to reporters Monday at Miller Park in Milwaukee, where he addressed a celebration of the Sojourner Family Peace Center, which has raised more than $26 million to build a comprehensive new center to help victims of domestic abuse.

— By Kay Nolan
For WIsBusiness.com