Sunday, April 26, 2015

GOP governance fails.

If you want some good Sunday reading, check out this article from Salon.com's Paul Rosenberg. The whole article is deep and filled with stats, and shows the Democrats' superior economic record when they are in control. If you live in a world where results matter, you can't help but notice that most big-name GOP governors fail miserably, including our Guv here in Wisconsin.
What do Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal all have in common? They’re all sitting governors who’d like to be president, sure. But what else?

How about being embarrassingly bad at job creation? That’s right. From January 2011 through January 2015, Louisiana under Jindal ranked 32nd in job creation with 5.4 percent growth over four years. Wisconsin under Walker ranked 35th, with 4.85 percent growth. New Jersey under Christie ranked 40th, with 4.15 percent growth. This compares with a national average of 8.21 percent.
Rosenberg goes on to note that as these GOP guvs try to promote their record on the national stage, the reality back home is that their right-wing policies are bankrupting their states, to the disapproval of the people that know them best.
It’s not just the embarrassing job-creation numbers, though that alone should be enough to disqualify the whole lot of them. New Jersey has just experienced its ninth bond downgrade under Christie, who may end up looking for a bridge to hide under. In Wisconsin, Walker, facing a two-year deficit that could go as high as $2 billion, has responded with $300 million in cuts for higher education, on top of billions in previous education cuts. Still, job creation was supposed to be Walker’s big thing—he promised to create 250,000 jobs in four years when he first ran in 2010, but came up short by more than 100,000 jobs. Making matters worse are the neighborhood comparisons. Wisconsin ranked between 29th and 41st in job growth over the last four years, the worst in the Midwest three of those years, and second worst the other. In fact, the state performed poorly on a whole host of indicators used by Bloomberg News, and suffers markedly in contrast with neighboring Minnesota, where progressive policies have that state’s economy recovering nicely.

Perhaps the pundits are still dazzled by these guys, but folks at home, not so much. Neither Christie nor Walker has any traction in beating Hillary Clinton in head-to-head home state matchups, probably the only kind of polls this early with any potential long-term 2016 value, since they involve figures well-known to the public being polled. Then again, Walker’s job approval fell to 41 percent in the latest Marquette Law poll (56 percent disapprove), which has plenty of other bad news for him as well.
Throw in Jindal's disastrous reign in Louisiana, which had unemployment rise from 5.6% to 7.2% during 2014, in a year that saw the U.S. add the most jobs in 15 years. Add in a chronic budget deficit, the GOP's refusal to raise taxes or even roll back tax cuts, and constant cuts to education that led LSU to consider filing for bankruptcy last week, and Jindal has been horrendous, even by the GOP's low standards.

And yet there are still some who think the GOP is the "responsible, adult" party that can run government better. I have no idea what planet these people are living on, except for the fact that in GOP-world, results don't matter, "bold moves" and other types of poses do. I'd hope we ask for more from our candidates outside of the bubble.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Another week, another bad Walker poll

You may have read about our fair Governor's approval tanking in another poll over the last week, but you may not realize how bad those numbers really are. When you take a bit of a closer look, it's little wonder there's been (yet another) drastic shift in tone and messaging from these guys in the last few days - because Wisconsinites are not buying what Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP are selling in any way shape or form.

Polls from Wisconsin Public Radio and Saint Norbert College has always been a bit shaky, because of its small sample size and its wacky demographics (more on that in a bit), but the figures do mirror the trends we saw in other polls from Public Policy Polling and the Marquette Law School in recent weeks- Walker approval slipping well underwater, and his run for president is one of the reasons why.
The statewide survey shows Walker with just a 41 percent approval rating....

The survey also found concern among many about how Walker's anticipated run with effect the state. [43] percent of respondents said that they thought Walker's campaign trips were detrimental to Wisconsin. [36] percent said that they thought the campaigning had no effect, 18 percent through they were beneficial to Wisconsin while 4 percent said they were unsure.

A majority of survey respondents also took a dim view of Walker's prospects if he was elected president. About 44 percent said that they thought he would make a poor president and 16 percent said he would be "not so good." [28] percent thought we would be a good president while 11 percent thought he would be an excellent chief executive. Only 1 percent were unsure, according to the survey.
Nothing too new there, outside of the confirming that Scotty's on the slide. But then you look at the demographics of the poll, and it brings the real kicker.
[35] percent of respondents identified as Republicans, 34 percent as Democrats and 26 percent said they were independents. About 57 percent said they consider themselves somewhat or very conservative while 37 percent said they are somewhat or very liberal.
WHOA WHOA WHOA! 57% conservative? R+1? That's a primary electorate, not even close to a general election voting population in Wisconsin. Take a look at the 2012 exit polls, which show the following breakdown.

2012 Wisconsin exit poll, New York Times
Ideology
Liberal 24%
Moderate 40%
Conservative 35%

Party ID
Democrat 37
Republican 32
Independent 31

So St. Norbert's sample has a whole lot more conservatives (and some more liberals) than the 2012 presidential electorate, and changes party ID from D +5 to R +1. The removal of large amounts of moderates from the sample is a help for Walker, because his approval rating among them and even "Independents" (which includes the sizable amount of Baggers who lie about being Republicans) are noticeably worse than the 41% total.

Walker approve/disapprove, moderates and Independents
Moderates
PPP March- 26-67
Marquette Law, April- 29-68

Independents
PPP March- 36-57
Marquette Law, April- 36-60

That makes it reasonable to assume that Walker's approval among the General Election electorate is in the 30s, with his policies disliked even more (94% of the WPR/St. Norbert poll wants K-12 funding to stay the same or be increased, for example, which goes against the $127 million cut Walker proposed).

With the numbers like those, no wonder why Walker was sending out silly tweets like this yesterday to try to convince people that times are good in Wisconsin.



Scotty also tried to talk up the lower unemployment rate in Wisconsin when he went to Minnesota this week, only to be hilariously slapped down by former Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak. The desperation is obvious with this strategy, with Walker never giving the proper context for Wisconsin's job gain and drop in unemployment over the last 4+ years.

That context being "THANKS OBAMA!"



And if the upcoming state revenue numbers are as disappointing as I fear they may be, that means most if not all of Walker's despised budget cuts will stay in place. Which means you can expect Scott Walker's approval rating in Wisconsin to remain in its "Bush 2nd term" downward trajectory, with little chance of it ever coming back. This week's WPR/St. Norbert poll, as RW-slanted as it was, gave us an even clearer indication that most Wisconsinites have pretty much had it with this guy, and the destructive policies that come with him.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bucks arena- an epic boondoggle?

Been an interested few days on the Bucks arena front, and not just because of the summit held at the Capitol with leaders from the state as well as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Exec Chris Abele. -

The BS from WisGOP Legislators about how the City has to "get serious" about chipping in towards the arena, but refusing to give the City the tools to do that. Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman's prediction from last week is looking spot-on right now, as the deal is blowing up, and the GOP Legislators are trying to pay the blame on a Barrett and other city officials to make them the scapegoat if the Bucks leave.

But Barrett has a right to not want to give away the farm for this project, as the city is at a much higher risk of of sinking a large amount of money into the arena project, without getting much in return. Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee wrote a long in-depth article off of a point I made last week, where the language in Gov Walker's budget says that not only the Bucks arena property itself, but the entire Sports and Entertainment District could be considered tax-exempt. If true, that would make this a huge giveaway for Bucks owners at the expense of Milwaukee taxpayers.
In short, Walker will assure the estimated $10 million in state income taxes on ballplayers isn’t lost, but has created legal language that allows the Bucks a massive property tax exemption. Not only will the $500 million arena be tax exempt, but so will the beer garden, practice facility, public plaza, probably any Bucks apparel and merchandise shops and who knows what else? Assuming everything within the entertainment district will cost at least $700 million (a very conservative estimate) and figuring that value times the current property tax rate of $29.97 per $1,000 of value, that would equal a property tax payment of nearly $21 million per year, meaning local taxpayers would lose far more in tax revenue than state taxpayers would gain. Over the likely 30-year life of the arena that’s a total property tax exemption of $629 million. (That might be a high estimate as property tax assessments for new buildings are often set below construction costs. On the other hand, I’m applying the current tax level for all 30 years of use, while the buildings’ value and taxes are likely to rise over time.)

But that’s not all the exemptions coming to the Bucks. The state proposal also awards a sales tax exemption on “building materials, equipment and supplies used solely in the construction, renovation, or development of a sports stadium.” Note that when it comes to the state sales tax, only the arena is exempt, but when it comes to the local property tax, nearly anything in the sports district is exempt. Assuming the cost of materials for the arena is, say, $300 million, that exemption would be worth about $17 million to the team.

The proposal’s language also specifies that the “income of a sport and entertainment district would be exempt from the state corporate income and franchise tax.” This language is very broad and would seem to include anything the Bucks develop under the banner of an entertainment district. Given the state corporate income tax of 7.9 percent, this exemption could be huge and wipe out most of the $10 million in annual income taxes Walker says he wants to protect.

It’s almost comic to hear state legislators repeat the mantra that the city and county must contribute to the Bucks because they will benefit from this huge development coming downtown. In fact, they are getting nothing but a massive non-profit eating up acres of developable land that will now be stricken from the tax base, and at a time when Downtown has become a magnet to new businesses. For the city, county, Milwaukee Public Schools, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Milwaukee sewerage district, this will represent a huge loss of property taxes that could have been paid by business, residential and retail development. This tax exemption is so far-reaching it leaves no way for the city to create a Tax Incremental District to finance a contribution to the proposed arena because no taxes will be collected in the district.
$629 million in foregone property taxes in 30 years? After giving away City and County-owned land and infrastructure? That's a whole lot more of a contribution that the rest of the state is willing to put in. And unlike the state, the City and County of Milwaukee isn't allowed to raise sales taxes or impose an income tax, barring an act from the Legislature, (and good luck getting that from this anti-Milwaukee, anti-tax crew). It makes Tommy Thompson's "stick it to em" of the 0.1% Miller Park tax seem like a charitable donation, and can you blame Mayor Barrett for not wanting to screw over the city's taxpayers, who would have to make up the difference in this tax exemption with higher property taxes and less services?

I want the Bucks to stay and I like the idea of a huge development associated with it, but not at the expense of permanently deforming the services and finances of the largest city in Wisconsin. Heck, if more Milwaukeeans catch on to how much the City might be on the hook for in this deal, they may hate this deal as much as the 88% of the non-Milwaukee area of the state did in the latest Marquette Law School Poll. Unless this Bucks plan gets rid of a lot of these property tax exemptions and allows Milwaukee more power to generate and keep its own revenues, I say NO WAY. If the Bucks leave, so be it, as I'll trade a city has a high quality of life with good services over giving it all up just to keep an NBA basketball team - no matter how much the Bradley Center was rocking during last night's double OT playoff game.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

GOP happy talk on Wisconsin budget going away quickly

Seems that the happy talk that Wisconsin Republicans were giving earlier this month about upcoming revenue figures is going by the wayside. Check out this comment from our Governor as he made a rare in-state (!) appearance yesterday at a groundbreaking in Appleton.
Gov. Scott Walker says new tax collection forecasts coming out in May will not provide a windfall, but any additional revenue should first be directed to help K-12 schools....

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau is expected to release new revenue projections the week of May 4. Positive projections will give the Legislature more money to spend or reduce cuts as it works on the state budget.

Walker says he does not think there will be a “huge amount” of additional money. But he says the priority will be filling a $127 million cut in funding to public schools he proposed in the first year of the budget.
That's quite the tell there, isn't it? How much you want to bet that Scotty got a preview of the March revenue collections (which will likely be released to the public tomorrow) and they're likely not looking that great. The March numbers aren't the last item of data the LFB will be utilizing when it makes its projections in a couple of weeks (that'll be April's numbers, because of the April 15 tax deadline), but they'll certainly give an indication where those figures are going.

You know Walker would be openly talking up the revenue figures if the numbers were good, because they would be proof that "it's working" and that cutting taxes can raise revenue (it's one of his arguments in the GOP primary). It also would allow for Walker's unpopular cuts to K-12 education to be reduced, and Walker is clearly feeling the heat from those proposals if he's already backtracking on those spending cuts and claiming that any extra revenue will go towards reducing them (those 41% approval ratings don't seem to leave him so "Unintimidated"). So I wouldn't bet on any great bump-up in numbers when they come out tomorrow.

Scott Fitzgerald also sounded downcast on the revenue side when he revealed today that it was unlikely that a lot of the UW System's $300 million budget cut will be reduced at the Capitol.
"I think with the out-of-state and the graduate student tuition increases that the Regents implemented there probably seems to be even less of a commitment to backfill that," said Sen. Fitzgerald.

Both Gov. Walker and Sen. Fitzgerald made it clear that any revenue increases would first be used to restore $127 million in cuts proposed for K-12 public education in the 2015-16 school year. Sen. Fitzgerald said if there is any extra revenue left over, there are a few things he would look to do to restore more funding to the Department of Transportation in order to reduce the amount of borrowing requested for road construction projects.
Given that 70% of respondents to the Marquette Law Poll from earlier this month said they opposed those UW System cuts, for Fitzgerald to not even say he'll try to soothe that damage tells you the money is not there. And the GOPs don't have the guts to raise taxes or even reduce upcoming tax cuts to reduce Walker's slashing of education funding, so they're left to pray that there was a huge influx of income tax returns that boosted April, or else they are SCREWED.

Sort of like what we're seeing in another Koch/ALEC-owned state that just released revenue figures- Kansas.
Lawmakers need to find an additional $200 million to balance the budget on top of revenue increases already proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The development is causing Brownback to consider whether to put forward a revised tax policy, his spokeswoman said.

Officials released an updated consensus revenue estimate Monday that shows a total of about $400 million in adjustments needs to be made to the budget. Brownback, a Republican, put forward about $210 million in cigarette and liquor tax hikes and other changes in his January budget proposal.

Those tax hikes haven’t been passed by lawmakers yet, however, even though legislators crafting the budget have been working on the assumption they will.
Brownback and the Kansas GOP has been cutting taxes on corporations and high-income individuals for the last 3 years, and the resulting has been an ongoing cycle of revenue shortfalls and budget cuts, so much so that 6 Kansas schools are closing early this year because Brownback had to yank funds away from them during the school year to balance the budget.

If Wisconsin's March and April revenue figures also fall short and open up further budget holes, will we see the same type of immediate cuts here? We'll likely have a good idea tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Classless and secretive- how the Walker Admin rolls on Earth Day

Two stories that broke this afternoon show just how low-class the Scott Walker administration has become. The first you've probably heard of already, and involves 57 employees of the Department of Natural Resources getting layoff notices as a result of Gov Walker's budget provisions, with the dismissals being concentrated in a very convenient section of the DNR.
DNR spokesman Bill Cosh said that of that number, 27 employees are in the Bureau of Science Services, a unit of the DNR where Walker is proposing significant cuts.

The bureau performs significant research duties for the DNR, and the cuts have come under fire from wildlife and environmental groups who say research is the underpinning of many agency activities. Other positions that could be cut are education and communications personnel.

DNR officials have said in recent weeks that it's premature to say what cuts will actually occur, and how science and research will be handled at the DNR in future years. Cosh has said that science is carried out across the DNR, and not just in the Bureau of Science Services.

The DNR's scientific staff conducts research on matters ranging from estimating the size of the state's deer herd to to studying the effects of aquatic invasive species. Work is paid for with state and federal funds.
Catch that last part? Many of these positions are federally and grant-funded, and ending these positions won't do anything to reduce Wisconsin's budget deficit. But remember, Scott Walker has been recently named a favorite of the Koch Brothers in the 2016 GOP primary, and the Kochs are especially interested in reducing (if not outright ending) enforcement of pollution laws, and measures to reduce climate change, since both items might cut into their profits. Having DNR staff that might use actual science to show that bad things are happening to the natural beauty and resources of Wisconsin might turn people against big-money energy execs that Walker wants to grab money off of. So why not take that possibility out of the equation by cutting that staff, and especially strike that pose on Earth Day, to show your Koch bosses how "serious" you are about helping them out? Yes, the Walker Administration's act is just that transparently political and absurd when it comes to its DNR policies.

It's been similarly transparent and absurd that Walker has made Wisconsin taxpayers shell out for his campaign trips trade missions around the globe, as well as the staff from WEDC that accompany him on these junkets. In addition, Walker makes the taxpayers pay for his security detail when he makes his many trips out of state to court donors and GOP voters. This issue came up again in today's Joint Finance Committee meeting, as the State Patrol's funding was discussed, and what they have to spend to accompany Walker on these trips was part of the discussion.
The committee voted along party lines 12-4 to reject a Dem motion to require the Walker administration to detail how much the state is spending on providing protection for the guv.

The motion sought a quarterly report on the expenses for the dignitary protection unit, which protects the guv, lt. guv, their families and visiting officials.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Gov. Scott Walker's travel outside Wisconsin and the country as he mounts a bid for the presidency has been "staggering," but the committee has no idea how much is being spent.
That's right, the GOP legislators said it was none of the taxpayer's business how much Walker was spending on his personal vanity run for president, and they weren't willing to even get a report how much was being spent. Remember when conservatives allegedly were the ones that were the "tightfisted overseers of the taxpayers' dollars." Not so much in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, where the accumulation of money and power is always more important than anything that would resemble ethical governance or caring for the public good.

Gee, you wonder why Walker's approval ratings are in the low 40's and falling, and why the Wisconsin public has turned against these budget provisions in massive numbers? Because they know Scotty and the gutless GOP lackeys in the Legislature could not care less about what happens to the everyday person in Wisconsin, or what kind of state they leave behind after the leave their current job and cash in for big bucks as a lobbyist or other type of wingnut welfare case. You just wish a lot of these people could have figured this out 6 1/2 months ago (it's not like the signs weren't there), and then we wouldn't have the disgusting embarrassment of a state government that we're stuck with today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

More Transportation funding won't solve the problems

Tomorrow features the Legislative Fiscal Bureau resuming its budget meetings, and the biggest-ticket item will involve several parts of the budget for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. This included a re-estimate of the state's Transportation Fund, which is separate from the General Fund that has been the source of many Scott Walker budget cuts. And it's generally good news, as there is a little more money to play with in the Transportation Fund for the next budget.
The Governor's budget was based on revenue and debt service estimates made prior to the time of the bill's introduction. Since that time, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has reestimated revenues and debt service payments and this office has reviewed, and, in some cases, modified, those estimates. The resulting estimates are reflected in the fund condition statement shown below. At the time of introduction, the biennium-ending fund balance was estimated at $11.2 million. However, due primarily to projections of higher motor fuel tax revenues and lower debt service costs, the transportation fund is now projected to have a biennium-ending balance of $84.7 million.
Some of that is related to an increased carryover amount of $32.2 million, which is related to more fuel consumption and vehicle registration revenue than anticipated, and lower interest rates have also helped, leading to debt service costs being $37.0 million less between now and mid-2017. It's a nice benefit to have, but as you'll see, it isn't going to go very far in minimizing the many issues that are prevalent in the Transportation budget.

For example, while the debt service is projected to be lower than it was in the budget bill, it's still slated to go way up over the course of the budget, and will crowd out the ability to spend funds in other Transportation areas as a result.

Projected revenue bond debt service, Wisconsin Transportation Fund
2014-15 $234.96 million
2015-16 $242.1 million
2016-17 $276.3 million

And that figure is slated to go up in future years, because Walker's budget plans to borrow $1.0 billion from the Transportation Fund, and $300 million more from the General Fund. This was the trade-off Walker chose instead of raising taxes or fees to pay for all of the $4.5 billion in DOT-related costs, and while the extra $72 million could go toward reducing that borrowing amount, it also is barely more than 5.5% of the total borrowing that's in the Governor's budget, leaving $1.228 billion that would still have to be paid back later, plus interest.

In addition, there are other needs that might be a better spot to spend the extra money on. For example, aids to local governments to help fix their roads is slated to stay at 2015's levels for 2016 and 2017, so that won't even keep up with any inflation that may come along. Same goes for mass transit aids, which are a huge necessity for local governments with bus systems, since the GOP Legislature removed all Regional Transit Authorities from the state in 2011, which means it comes down to state and federal aids, property taxes and fares to fund the systems. A small increase in these funds would go a long way toward removing burdens for cash-strapped local governments.

There are also a couple of General Fund notes that are intriguing with the DOT fund. First of all, the scheduled transfer from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund is notably less from what it gets now. This reflects the self-inflicted wounds that were part of Gov Walker's deficit-ridden budget, because there simply isn't the money available to send more funds into the DOT.

Transfer from General Fund to Transportation Fund
2014-15 $169.6 million
2015-16 $38.0 million
2016-17 $46.1 million

It's interesting to note that $46.1 million is a bit larger than the $39.1 million that was listed in the Governor's Budget in Brief (page 33), which indicates that there is $7 million more that has to be made up in the budget deliberations (unless I'm missing something, feel free to say if I am). That's money that isn't available for filling in the cuts at the UW System or K-12 schools or Senior Care or any number of other unfunded needs.

But maybe the $72 million can fill in some of those holes, and stop the daily announcements of UW layoffs. Oh wait, the Road Builder amendment from last November makes that illegal. So much for schools being helped with the increased tax revenue from driving.

So with that extra money in the Transportation Fund having to stay there, let's see what options the Joint Finance Committee takes tomorrow. Do they try to reduce borrowing, help local governments, pay for something else, or bank it for later. Regardless of which path is chosen, there are still major unfunded needs for Transportation in this budget, and the Walker Administration's "borrow and spend" policies aren't going to allow business as usual to continue much longer.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bucks arena in major jeopardy? Seems so

Two intriguing articles on the Bucks arena have hit in recent days that seem to indicate that the new facility is far from a sure thing. As a result, NBA basketball is looking less likely to be around in Wisconsin in 2 years, barring major changes in heart at the State Capitol, or in the hearts and minds of state voters.

What really set off the alarm bells for me was when I read this article today from ESPN's Brian Windhorst on how the NBA won't accept much foot-dragging on the arena, and wants a decision to be made sooner than later. Windhorst goes into detail on how the always-contentious issue of public funding for a pro sports facility has an extra level of emotion in Milwaukee, with memories of the battles that led to Miller Park being built in the late '90s (culminating in a recall of a state senator who supported the Miller Park tax), and the present-day conflict between the GOP-led state government and the Dem-run City and County of Milwaukee. Windhorst says that the NBA would have no problem with allowing the Bucks to move if a new building isn't going up.
This is the essential conundrum of being a local politician bargaining with a national sports league. The options are all difficult. And in this case, the answers have to come almost immediately. When a New York-based group led by Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry bought the Bucks from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl in April 2014, the deal included both a carrot and a stick to encourage local politicians to put the Bucks at the top of the political priority list.

The carrot was hundreds of millions of dollars toward the stadium. A nice benefit, but not enough to get the building completed. The stick was a clause stating that if an arena is not in place in Milwaukee by the start of the 2017-18 season -- an ambitious schedule -- the NBA has the right to buy the team. League insiders suggest a sale and relocation is the next logical step. The team would be worth more, by most analyses, in another city. NBA commissioner Adam Silver visited Milwaukee last November and made it clear at the time he wasn't carrying a big stick, saying "I didn't come here to announce deadlines." But, according to league sources, the NBA office -- having learned through the years that pledges and promises have little value until ground is broken -- has made it clear to all parties it will enforce the out clause if shovels are not digging quickly. The NBA has communicated it could give on the schedule a bit, but only in the case of true progress. The league isn't threatening consequences; it's guaranteeing them.
Windhorst says that the Bucks would likely move to Seattle in 2 years if a deal cannot be struck, as the Seattle Metropolitan Statistical Area is twice the size of Milwaukee's, and has lacked NBA basketball since the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. Other possibilities include two markets close to Milwaukee's size- Las Vegas and Louisville - who lack any teams in the major 4 pro team sports as of this time.

Windhorst also goes over the financing numbers, and where a gap has appeared in recent weeks after Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and other state legislators said they were looking to reduce the amount of money the state would chip in toward the project compared to what was in Gov Walker's budget proposal.
It is projected the new Bucks arena will cost $500 million. With a combined $250 million from Kohl and the Bucks' new ownership, the proposal is a 50/50 split between public and private money. It is similar to the arena being built in Sacramento, California, where the city avoided the Kings moving to Seattle when a partnership was struck that saw the city invest $255 million and the Kings pledge $222 million. Gov. Walker has proposed $220 million through bonds issued by the state. The legislature, however, is fighting him on it and is proposing a deal for much less: $150 million. The city has offered $25 million in the form of infrastructure and land but no cash. The county hasn't offered a formal plan as yet but is expected to offer a package in the range of $25 million, as well.

That leaves a major shortfall -- between $50 million to $100 million -- and no one is offering to fill it, including the Bucks' ownership, who lawmakers have more than hinted should fund the solution. It is in this hole where the Bucks' future probably is going to be decided.
It sure doesn't look likely to be the City of Milwaukee that'll be the ones to cough up more funds than they are already offering. Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman gave a revealing interview in Milwaukee Magazine last week regarding the City's side of financing the Bucks arena, and the general political state of play on the issue. Bauman may be quite a prickly guy if you're on the wrong side of him, but he's also extremely knowledgeable on the ins and outs of policy, and few will shoot straighter on what's really going on. This interview is no exception.
[Bauman]: Everybody’s acting undercover here, not just the city. The Walker plan on paper is just fine. The understanding was that the City would come up with $25 million and the County would come up with $25 million, and we basically said, that we can handle. Now, the state’s going to change the deal, where it’s not $200 million, it’s $150 million. That creates a $100 million dollar gap. The City can’t handle that. It just can’t. And I think that’s exactly what (Assembly Speaker) Robin Vos and (Senate Majority Leader Scott) Fitzgerald intend to have happen.

As soon as we heard the legislature changing the deal, we don’t know what they’re willing to offer at this point. Do we have the capacity to make (a $25 million) contribution? Yes. Do we have the political will? That remains to be seen. Do we have the capacity to make a $50 million contribution? No, we don’t. We just plain don’t...

I have a perfect solution to all this, but the state will never go along because it involves raising taxes.

Allow Milwaukee County to levy a dedicated one percent sales tax that funds transit, parks and recreation, cultural institutions and the construction of a new arena. And there’s no state subsidy. And that would remove $74 million from the Milwaukee Country property tax levy to boot. It takes the park system off the county property tax levy, it takes all the cultural institutions off the county property tax levy, it takes public transit of the county property tax levy and it funds the arena with no state subsidy. All the state has to do is say, “OK, Milwaukee County, raise your sales tax one penny.”
And remember, County voters approved of such a 1% tax in an advisory referendum in 2008, but a County Exec named Walker urged the Legislature not to allow it, and it never happened.

Bauman adds that he thinks the GOP-run Assembly won't pass a bill to allow Milwaukee to raise non-property tax revenues toward a Bucks arena, and as a result "this all goes south and the Bucks move," which Bauman says will give the GOP and talk radio the excuse to blame Mayor Tom Barrett. Of course, it's past policy from the GOP-run state government that has led to many of these financing problems, not only in dumping more of the burden of the arena onto them, but in disallowing the tools that would allow the city and the county to get the revenue to comfortably generate funds and spend more toward the project. Instead, the State Legislature has consistently tied the City and the County's hands with limitations on sales taxes and shared revenue payments from the state, then complains when those levels of government decide to pay for police, fire, and streets over neglecting those services and jacking up the tax rates of locals to help pay for a basketball arena.

And last week's Marquette Law School Poll doesn't seem to indicate there's much of an appetite for shelling out state funds to the arena (doubly interesting since Marquette basketball may well play in the new arena). The MU Poll asked about the reduced-cost plan floated by the State Legislature of $150 million to be borrowed (they didn't even ask about $220 million Walker wants to borrow), and the answer was an overwhelming "HELL NO!"
Seventy-nine percent oppose borrowing about $150 million to support a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, with 17 percent supporting the proposal. In the Milwaukee media market, 67 percent oppose funding for an arena and 29 percent support it. Those views vary by less than 2 percentage points among the City of Milwaukee, the surrounding suburban counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties, and the seven other southeastern Wisconsin counties included in the media market.

In the rest of the state only 9 percent support borrowing for an arena, with 88 percent opposed.
Oddly, the funding question for the Bucks arena will not likely be affected by new revenue estimates that come out in a couple of weeks, because there is very little debt payoff that is to be made over the next two years on the arena (the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates this number at $2.8 million). But given what Windhorst and Bauman have hinted at, the big decisions regarding the Bucks arena and the team's future are likely to be decided in the next few months, and if the developments of recent weeks are an indication, this arena may be moving further away from being reality as the deadline get closer.