Saturday, September 24th, 2016

No bucks for the Bucks

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Waukesha Freeman December 12, 2013 Page A4 Opinion

No bucks for the Bucks
Life goes on even if team leaves city 

freeman headIf some leaders in the Milwaukee area have their way, residents of the surrounding counties will pay an additional sales tax to fund an arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. It will be up to the other four counties, and the state Legislature, to tell Milwaukee no.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has appointed a 48-member “Cultural and Entertainment Needs Task Force” to figure out where the funding will come from to build the Bucks a new basketball arena. The wolves are gathering to decide which sheep will feed them.

There are differences this time from when the Legislature passed the five-county sales tax to build Miller Park.

For one thing, the Miller Park tax is still going, reminding the taxpayers how difficult it is to kill a “temporary” tax once it starts. The stadium tax was supposed to expire in 2010. Now it might not expire until 2020, if ever. It’s a sweet deal for Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who gets to see the value of his team grow with every taxpayer-funded improvement to the stadium.

The Miller Park tax is also a reminder of why legislators will be reluctant to agree to fund a new arena for the Bucks with the sales tax. Both sides remember how partisan a new stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers became. Democrats took advantage of the one-vote margin to recall state Sen. George Petak, beginning the modern era of Wisconsin recall politics.

Supporters of a new arena for the Bucks recognize the poison politics of asking the surrounding counties to contribute, so they’re trying something new. They are creating a list of special “cultural” interests that could also benefit from the new tax. They think by getting all of the special interests lined up for “their share” of the taxpayer dollars, support will grow for building a new arena.

Supporters of a new arena want residents of Waukesha, Ozaukee, Racine and Washington counties to pay for such cultural attractions as the Milwaukee Symphony and the Milwaukee County Zoo. They will claim that since residents from outside the county are patrons of those attractions, they should help pay for them.

However, if these cultural institutions are so good at drawing crowds from outside Milwaukee County, then Milwaukee County needs to decide if there is a net benefit to spending their own tax dollars. What does it profit a bar or restaurant in Kewaskum if Milwaukee has two opera companies instead of one?

Ironically, many of the same art groups and cultural attractions that would supposedly benefit from a new regional tax are in competition with the Milwaukee Bucks for corporate support and consumers’ entertainment dollars. By supporting a new entertainment tax, they may only be hurting themselves in the long term.

Residents of the surrounding counties should wonder if the MMAC would be so gung-ho for a new arena if it were planned for another county in the region. Would Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett be supportive of building a new arena if it were near West Bend? Or in Pabst Farms?

If the Milwaukee Bucks do not get an arena, they may leave Wisconsin. That is not hyperbole. Jon Humbert of KOMO-TV in Seattle reports interest by that city in getting the Bucks if they can’t steal the team in Sacramento. It would be payback for Milwaukee taking the Seattle Pilots baseball team and turning them into the Milwaukee Brewers.

But we should ignore the hyperbole that if the Bucks leave Milwaukee, it’s somehow the end of the world. WTMJ radio personality Gene Mueller tried scaring the station’s audience with a reference to Des Moines. His station, which benefits from the Bucks by broadcasting the games, should stick to scary promos about evil Time Warner cable.

Milwaukee would still have the Brewers and the city didn’t wither up and die when the Green Bay Packers stopped playing at County Stadium. Life will go on without the Milwaukee Bucks.

Study after study has shown the economic impact claims of professional sports teams are puffed up. A new arena might be cool-looking, but it isn’t worth the price.

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