Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Bucks Arena Tough Sell for Outstate Legislators

Poll shows state residents outside metro Milwaukee and Madison oppose subsidy by 86% to 10%.

By - Apr 27th, 2015 10:18 am
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If there’s going to be any state aid to help build a new $500-million arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, it will take support from legislators like Republican Rep. Mary Czaja, whose hometown of Irma in Lincoln County (just north of Wausau) lost 15 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010.

Czaja may only be in her second Assembly term, but she got a seat on the Joint Finance Committee this session partly because of the new sense of purpose and resolve that comes from surviving breast cancer. Twice.

In a WisconsinEye interview, Czaja said the “first thing” residents of her Assembly district told her in listening sessions on the next state budget was not to use their tax money to help build a new arena for a Bucks team they will probably never see play. Irma is almost 220 miles from Milwaukee.

There was “zero” support for state aid for a new Bucks arena in her 35th Assembly District, Czaja said, paraphrasing what constituents told her: “Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous. That money should go to schools.”

The last Marquette Law School poll showed that most North Woods residents feel that way. Residents polled who didn’t live in cities like Milwaukee and Madison and Green Bay opposed state help for a Bucks arena overwhelmingly – 86 percent to 10 percent said Marquette pollster Charles Franklin.

What Czaja did next in her conversations with constituents is fascinating.

“So then you have a conversation,” Czaja said, explaining – carefully and deliberately – why she may end up supporting state aid of between $120 million and $150 million for a Bucks arena. But her support assumes substantial contributions from both the city and county of Milwaukee.

Czaja’s logic: The state of Wisconsin still owes $20 million on the BMO Harris Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee, which needs an additional $100 million in maintenance. “We’re on the hook for it,” Czaja said.

Whether or not a new Bucks home is built, she added, “We will still be in the arena business. If we don’t do this, we’re going to lose the revenue on the Bucks, and the trickle-down effect of that revenue into Milwaukee. We need a healthy Milwaukee to have a healthy state. That’s reality.”

Also, the $20 million still owed on the Bradley Center is “bonding money – not general-fund money that could be utilized for schools.” Legislators are trying to avoid the $127-million cut in K-12 school aids proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

If her neighbors hear her out, Czaja said that discussion often ends like this: “When you explain it to constituents that way, they’re like, ‘Well, I would rather have the new arena, and the Bucks stay in the revenue, than a $120-million Bradley Center that has no major tenant in it’.”

But state aid for a new Bucks arena remains one of the toughest sells in the Capitol. After all, the package that built Miller Park for the Brewers raised the five county, Greater Milwaukee-area sales tax and prompted the recall of Republican Sen. George Petak, of Racine, after he voted for it in 1995.

When the entire state was measured, the most recent Marquette Law School poll documented opposition – by a margin of 79 percent to 17 percent – to state aid for a new Bucks arena. Even in the City of Milwaukee, the Marquette survey found two-to-one opposition to that state help (66 percent no, 30 percent yes).

Franklin also said respondents who identified themselves as Republicans were only marginally more in favor of state aid for a Bucks arena – 31 percent of Republicans, compared to 26 percent of Democrats.

Interestingly, Green Bay-area residents questioned by Marquette pollsters had the highest opposition to any state aid for a new Bucks arena – 89% against and only 6% in favor. It was not that long ago that a Brown County-only sales tax increase raised almost $300 million to remodel Lambeau Field for the Packers. The state provided only $9.1 million for infrastructure improvements. Green Bay residents may well feel that given how little help the state gave the revered Packers, none should be forthcoming for Wisconsin’s pro basketball team.

State help for a Bucks arena is so controversial that Republican Sen. Steve Nass of Whitewater wants it to be voted on separately, and not as one of thousands of items in the 2015-17 state budget. There’s no assurance it would pass as a stand-alone bill, however.

Franklin said a yes-or-no vote in the Legislature on a Bucks arena aid package “may be tough as a symbolic vote,” but no individual taxpayer would notice it. Help for the Bucks would be a “tiny fraction of their overall tax burden.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

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21 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Bucks Arena Tough Sell for Outstate Legislators”

  1. David says:

    M….. we get it. You’re opposed to the arena deal. Take a break.

  2. PMD says:

    I agree. Please from now on only arena deal supporters post on this site. Thank you.

  3. David says:

    PMD…. I read the attached article. Its a two paragraph hatchet job. The author even gets her name wrong. I doubt M read the article she posted.

  4. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    We have the best Conservative network in state, thousands of email addresses and Facebook: Wisconsin Conservative Digest. I say 98% against, out state, few Bucks fans. Kohl did lousy job on team and promo. Half crowd there, on free or reduced tickets. Jason Kidd is doing good job though.
    why would people out state want to spend money on Bucks when their schools are getting cut. half state roots for Timberwolves.

  5. AG says:

    I’ve got a better one. If the financing is indeed funded by the increase in player salaries… then NOT having state financing and having the Bucks leave would in effect (based on the definitions given on this site before) be a tax increase on the good tax payers of our state. Since we’d be losing the money we already get in income tax from the team, that money has to come from somewhere.

  6. PMD says:

    I’m sure half is an exaggeration, but do a lot of Wisconsin residents really cheer for the Timberwolves? 98% “out state” probably oppose anything Milwaukee-related just on principle. That should be taken with a grain of salt.

  7. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    NWest corner is heavily invested in twin cites only 50 miles away. They look to Mn. cause so many work there but life by hudson.
    I just laugh when people start to explain this silly idea of player salaries/taxes. Get on your motorcycles and tour state explaining this and wear a helmet shield to protect you from tomatoes.

  8. David says:

    PMD…. no half the state does not root for the Timberwolves. WCD is an antagonistic spin master. Oh… he’s a liar as well. The Wolves draw less than the Bucks.

  9. David says:

    It’s all about divide and conquer – pit rural vs urban. WCD and his merry band of dopes are leading the way.

  10. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    David continually shows his ignorance. NWEast Wis. from LaX up to Hurly relates to Twin City and takes their Sunday news. Milwaukee is pit compared to Milwaukee.
    I peddled Minneapolis paper in LaX as kid and have many relatives along west part of state.
    Twin cites are paradise compared to Milwaukee leadrship, male, white, liberal racists.

  11. David says:

    WCD…. no one understands your crazy ramblings. Get a grip dopey.

  12. David says:

    WCD… btw moron we’re talking about the T-Wolves.

  13. Andrew says:

    So NOT madison or Milwaukee areas? Isn’t that 1/7th of the state population??? Cities are important for states and sports are important for cities. You need people coming from out of the area to add to the revenue. Go live in Montana or Wyoming if you want the opposite of this.

  14. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Andrew, run up state and tell them that see what happens?? Simple answer. Milwaukee wants Bucks, most people do not care, they do not have big fan base like Brewers or Packers, then Milwaukee should pay themselves fro arena. they have their own things they want to build.

  15. Andrew says:

    So “up state” doesn’t want to pay into it, but it is ok for them to reap the benifits? It is a situation where both political ideaologies need to be able to collaborate on the best way to do this, not just both sides being stubborn and myopic. It is like the people who complain about the 0.1% brewers stadium tax which lead to the revitalization with that team and now to the valley area, but don’t see the benifits when the visiting fans from other states come to the area and spend money which helps them greater than the cost of the tax.

  16. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Go ahead Andrew run up to Cashton, Hudson, Crandon and tell them that they are stupid that they do not want to spend billion or so to keep a basketball team here. They have their own basketball teams up there, the high schools. You should have no trouble at all. They might want to have a big gym for their teams, you going to build it for them?

  17. PMD says:

    Your criteria makes no sense. Should a city never build anything new because rural communities located in the same state but far away feel like it won’t benefit them? And doesn’t urban tax money help subsidize those same rural communities?

  18. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Go tell them that, smartie, You need their votes. They voted against the local sales tax for the stadium based purely on the principle that the businesses should build their own playpens. People on this site is so damn dumb, they think that wishing makes it so. Grow up. No, the state subsidizes Milwaukee, look it up.

  19. PMD says:

    So rural communities in Wisconsin do not benefit in any way from urban tax dollars? According to the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, “residents in metropolitan counties subsidize their rural counterparts by paying more in state taxes than they receive in benefits.”

    Is that wrong? How so?

  20. Tim says:

    hahaha, “look it up”… comedy gold.

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