Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Bucks Arena Will Need Democratic Support

But which Democrats are likely to back it?

By - Jul 6th, 2015 10:52 am
Chris Larson

Chris Larson

A three-act drama plays out this week in the Capitol. The actors are Republican Gov Scott Walker, Republican legislators who control both Assembly and Senate, and Democrats scrambling for issues they can use to climb back into power. And they’re all playing with your money.

Here’s the script for this week’s political drama, As the Capitol Turns.

Act 1: The Bucks Stop … Where?

Wisconsin’s NBA team needs a new home, which they say should be a $500-million new downtown Milwaukee arena, or they will leave Wisconsin. Current and past team owners will pay half; public funds – including a $55-million stake from state government – will pay the other half.

But the “built it, they’ll stay” plan is the most unpopular major issue pending, since it would help billionaire Bucks owners and millionaire players. A majority of the 132 legislators privately want the Bucks deal approved, but only a few dozen are willing to stand up in public and vote for it.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he wants the 33-member Senate to vote on that Bucks funding plan next week, even though he can’t guarantee that it will pass and go to the Assembly, where it has more support. Although Republicans hold a 19-14 Senate majority, Fitzgerald said some Democratic senators will have to vote for the Bucks arena deal for it to pass. That’s because some Republicans – starting with Sen. Rick Gudex, of Fond du Lac, who won by only 600 votes in 2012 and is up for re-election next year – can’t vote for any Bucks deal.

But what’s the number of Democrats needed to push the deal across the Senate finish line: Three? (Milwaukee Sens. Nikiya Harris-Dodd, Lena Taylor and Chris Larson are likely candidates.) Four? (Madison-area Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who has worked with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for decades, seems open to persuasion.) Five? (Could Democratic Senate Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse), who many in the party want to run for governor in 2018, vote for the Bucks deal?) All very dramatic, but meanwhile there are signs the Milwaukee Bucks owners believe passage is a sure thing, as Dave Reid reports.

Act 2: Need Road Repair? Call GOP Legislator

The 2015-17 state budget the Assembly will vote on next week will not raise the gas tax or $75 annual vehicle registration fee, and it would borrow outright $500 million – $800 million less than what Walker recommended in February – to repair highways over the next two years.

Borrowing only $500 million will force delays in highway projects statewide, including the north segment of the Milwaukee-area Zoo Interchange, the busiest crossroads in the state. East-west construction on the Zoo Interchange – the core of the project that is halfway finished – would continue.

The GOP budget will would also authorize an additional $350 million in borrowing, but only on projects approved by the 16 politicians on the Joint Finance Committee. The committee has 12 Republicans and four Democrats; none are engineers.

Why give elected officials – and not WisDOT professionals – new oversight powers over which highway projects are approved? Because legislators from rural areas want to make sure that projects statewide – in their regions as well as in the Milwaukee-area — are equally approved or equally delayed.

But that means that only projects in districts represented by Republicans may be approved, warned Erpenbach. “I’d hate to be in the minority party and need a project.”

Which leaves this Act 2 cliff hanger: Will legislators insist on saying that future road projects go through them, or go back to letting WisDOT professionals do their jobs?

Act 3: Which Republicans Prevail on Wages?

Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws were passed in the 1930s, when the Great Depression required that pay and fringe benefits be high enough to let workers provide for their families. Now, however, legislators like Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford), a roofing contractor, say it means that a worker on a government project makes up to $51 per hour, while his neighbor working on a job for a private company makes $25 per hour.

Some Republicans want to repeal all prevailing wage laws. Others favor compromises that would repeal wage requirements only on local government projects. Some Republicans  – and every Democrat – want no change in current laws.

The Assembly will debate this issue first next week, giving Senate Republicans – entering from stage right – the final lines in Act 3.

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

4 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Bucks Arena Will Need Democratic Support”

  1. Bruce says:

    No Bucks arena ! Republicans you ruined the state. Good-bye sports !

  2. Dave says:

    F ’em. I want the Bucks to stay but not for the GOP/Abele fiasco that was concocted selling Milwaukee County and the convention center up the river. Want Democrat votes? Maybe try working with them instead of shutting them out entirely.

    Oh, and raise the gas tax already, cowards.

  3. duncantuna says:

    If I were a journalist, I’d ask the WiDOT what their list of non-partisan priorities were (each year) and compare that to what the JFC comes out with.

    Article writes itself.


    New Study Exposes Folly of Gov. Walker’s Effort to Repeal Wisconsin Prevailing Wage
    Repeal will cost Wisconsin thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars
    Madison – Just completed research by Colorado State University Economist Kevin Duncan and Smart Cities Prevail Researcher Alex Lantsberg reveals that Wisconsin’s proposed prevailing wage repeal (AB 32) will cost the state nearly 9,000 jobs, $1.2 billion in economic output, $77 million in tax revenue, and will export an estimated $500 million in construction investments out of state.
    The report, entitled “How Weakening Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage Policy Would Affect Public Construction Costs and Economic Activity,” is the latest in a series of studies completed by Duncan and Lantsberg that model the effect of prevailing wage policy changes on the economies and construction industries of states where such changes are under consideration.
    Read the Economic Impact Report on Repeal of Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage Policy Here.
    Wisconsin’s proposed prevailing wage repeal, AB 32, passed out of the Assembly Labor Committee last week, and Governor Scott Walker—who is also widely expected to formally launch a bid for the Presidency in 2016—has said he will sign the measure.
    “There is a lot of misinformation out there, and up until now, study of the economic impact of these policy changes has been scarce,” Duncan said. “There is a reason why prevailing wage policies have long been embraced by leaders in both political parties—including Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and neighboring GOP Governor Rick Snyder—and our goal is to ensure that policy makers have the facts they need to cut through the overheated political rhetoric and make informed decisions.”
    The study uses data from the Economic Census of Construction and industry standard IMPLAN software to compare and model spending shifts in public construction that occur in prevailing wage and non-prevailing wage states. Factors include the economic ripple effect that wages have on spending, job creation, and tax revenue; industry responses to wage rates in terms of workforce productivity and worksite efficiency; and rates of in-state vs. out-of-state contracting on public works.
    “The data clearly shows that repealing prevailing wage in Wisconsin will have no effect on project costs—but it will eliminate thousands of jobs across all economic sectors, suppress economic output, necessitate millions in cuts to other public services, lead to reduced productivity and efficiency at the job site, and export hundreds of millions of construction dollars out of state,” said Lantsberg. “Repeal is not sound economic policy, and the only taxpayers AB 32 will benefit are those who live in states other than Wisconsin.”
    In their research, Lantsberg and Duncan devote an entire section to debunking the myth of cost savings by repeal proponents, noting that lower wage standards will deprive Wisconsin of favorable industry responses from prevailing wage standards. In Wisconsin’s case, this includes a 7% increase in worksite productivity and 2% reduction in materials and fuels usage rates that come from employing higher skilled, local workers.
    “These factors would, by themselves, more than exhaust any savings realized from imposing lower wages—especially since labor (wages and benefits) comprise less than 20% of the total cost of any public construction project,” Duncan added. “Ultimately, over ten years, this measure will not save money, but it will reduce real income to Wisconsin families by $5.1 billion, shrink Wisconsin’s economy by another $12 billion, and degrade the quality of construction on highways, schools, hospitals, and other public works. The facts are clear—repeal of prevailing wage in Wisconsin is just bad policy.”
    Kevin Duncan, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized economist specializing in labor and regional economics. Dr. Duncan works as a Professor of Economics in the Hasan School of Business at Colorado State University – Pueblo and Senior Economist at BCD Economics, LLC.
    Alex Lantsberg is a researcher with Smart Cities Prevail specializing in economics, land use, and urban planning. Mr. Lantsberg holds a Master’s Degree in City Planning from the University of California, Berkeley and an undergraduate degree in finance from Northern Illinois University.
    Smart Cities Prevail is a leading construction industry research and educational organization, specializing in studying the costs and benefits of prevailing wage policies. Learn more at, or on facebook at

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