It’s being called a disastrous deal by some critics and yet another example of corporate welfare. On Aug. 12, Republican presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin approved $250 million of public funding to build a $500 million arena for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.
During a press conference Walker said the deal “is a good example of where people came together and said, ‘This is not only good for Milwaukee. This is not only good for the Milwaukee region. This is going to be good for the state of Wisconsin.’"
But critics point out that when bond interest is factored in, that $250 million of public money will come to as much as $424 million out of state taxpayers’ pockets over the next 20 years.
Keep in mind that the current facility in Milwaukee, the BMO Harris Bradley Center, was built just 27 years ago in 1988.
The announcement came after the Bucks’ owners threatened to leave the state if a deal couldn’t be reached to use public money to fund construction of a stadium. Those owners include New York billionaire hedge fund managers Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry and Walker presidential campaign co-chairman Jon Hammes.
Critics say the deal looks suspect and tarnishes Walker’s image as a fiscal conservative. In 2011 he claimed he could help balance his state’s budget by taking away Wisconsin’s public sector labor unions’ right to bargain collectively. That move sparked protests by thousands of government employees, who occupied the state Capitol for weeks.
In the end, Walker won his battle against the unions, but his disapproval ratings soared, sparking a recall election. He survived the recall — the only governor in U.S. history to do so — and in turn became a rising star in the Republican Party, so much so that on July 13, he announced he would run for president.
In July he slashed funding for the University of Wisconsin by $250 million and increased state debt to repair roads and bridges — as Wisconsin faces a projected $2.2 billion deficit — making it all the more surprising that he would put state taxpayers on the hook for a new stadium.
Meanwhile, according to reports, several co-owners of the Milwaukee Bucks contributed $200,000 to a super PAC backing Walker for president.
The new Milwaukee Bucks Arena is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2017 NBA season.
Rima Abdelkader contributed to this article. @rimakader