Bucks Subsidy An Issue in US Senate Race
Nelson opposes subsidy, blasts Lasry, Barnes for supporting it.
Amid a playoff run by the world champion Milwaukee Bucks, the huge tax subsidy for the team is being criticized by Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, who is running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S Senator seat held by Ron Johnson.
“We paid a quarter of a billion dollars for the Fiserv Forum,” a new ad by Nelson declares. “Every dollar spent was taken from schools, roads, tax relief. Things that benefit all of us. Go Bucks, but let’s end these crooked political deals.”
As for Barnes, he “played along” with state legislation authorizing the subsidy “while serving in the Assembly, even though there was stiff bipartisan opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, including some within Milwaukee,” Nelson charged.
Nelson noted the irony of Barnes’ support for the subsidy, saying the latter is now “getting a taste of his own medicine. … He votes for the subsidy, now the Lasry family is giving their son millions of dollars to run for the U.S. Senate.”
In February, a bill sponsored by three Democratic members of the House of Representatives proposed to end a lucrative federal tax break used to subsidize pro sports arenas and stadiums. The bill was partly inspired by a Brookings Institution study which found the federal government had lost $3.7 billion in revenue as a result of tax-exempt municipal bonds used for stadium construction since 2000.
When all federal and state and local tax exemptions are included the total subsidy for a team is much greater. The total cost for taxpayers for Fiserv Forum is likely double or triple the $250 million price tag for the arena that is commonly used, as Urban Milwaukee has estimated, while the total cost for taxpayers for the Milwaukee Brewers stadium was recently estimated at $1.56 billion.
Nelson supports the federal bill ending the federal tax write-off, saying “we definitely need to pass H.R. 6806.” Barnes declined to comment on the issue. But Thad Nation, spokesperson for Lasry’s campaign, offered this statement to Urban Milwaukee:
“Alex does not favor ending the use of federally exempt bonds, but he does believe that changes should be made to how these bonds can be utilized.
“As Senator, Alex will work to strengthen requirements for the use of these bonds to mandate project labor agreements, purchasing building materials made in the USA, as well as the utilization of minority, women and veteran owned firms as a hiring requirement. The clear success of the public/private partnership that built Fiserv Forum is a strong case study in how these bonds can be used effectively to spur growth, create good paying union jobs, and help drive development not only in Milwaukee, but across Wisconsin.”
Nelson offers a direct contract to this approach, also criticizing “the Foxconn disaster which Sen. Ron Johnson enthusiastically backed...We have to stop Foxconn-Fiserv scams that starve local communities and primarily benefit billionaire plutocrats,” Nelson declared.
When asked for her view, Democratic candidate Sarah Godlewski declined to specifically address the federal tax subsidy for sports teams but said “I believe we must fix the Swiss cheese tax code that too often benefits the wealthy and big corporations. I’ll fight for a wholesale rewrite of the tax system, to create more accountability and transparency for our tax dollars.”
Urban Milwaukee reached out to Sen. Johnson for comment but did not hear back.
Nelson is well behind in the Democratic primary, according to the April poll by Marquette University Law School, which found he was the top choice among 5% of voters, compared to 19% for Barnes, 16% for Lasry and 7% for Godlewski. The issue of the Bucks subsidy puts Nelson on the side of the majority of voters, who typically oppose these deals. A MU poll back in April 2015 found early 80% of respondents opposed the a $150 million package for the Bucks, which is much less than what the team ultimately got.
More about the New Bucks Arena
- Back in the News: Bucks Owners Continue to Cash In - Bruce Murphy - Nov 28th, 2022
- Murphy’s Law: Bucks Subsidy An Issue in US Senate Race - Bruce Murphy - May 9th, 2022
- Murphy’s Law: Bucks Franchise Worth $1.86 Billion - Bruce Murphy - Jan 25th, 2021
- Op Ed: County Parks Lost Funding to Bucks Arena - Patricia Jursik - Jul 7th, 2020
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Fiserv Forum Workers to Get $15/Hour - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 29th, 2020
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Bucks Beat Hiring Targets on Fiserv Forum - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 20th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Taxpayers Make Bucks, Brewers Rich - Bruce Murphy - Apr 16th, 2019
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Bucks Unveil Master Plan for Park East - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 15th, 2019
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Bucks Plan Massive Arena Signs - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 12th, 2019
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Bucks’ New Bar Is “The MECCA” - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 7th, 2019
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4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Bucks Subsidy An Issue in US Senate Race”
What your report fails to mention is that the amount of state income taxes paid by members of the Milwaukee Bucks over the next 20 years will exceed the State’s contribution to the project. In essence, we received a free arena.
Republicans would NEVER have voted that money for any of the purposes Nelson is using in his attack on fellow Democrats.
@James Frieseke, I would love to see you detail those calculations. The Bucks owners could easily have afforded to pay for this arena with their own money, and the players would still be contributing state income taxes.
@ELLEN FREDERICK, I am not sure that is true. Republicans love big government when it comes to road building, police, etc. Should Nelson refrain from criticizing fellow Democrats during the primary campaign? That is preposterous. It’s a healthy debate.
When the Brookings Institute says this corporate welfare is out of hand, one must take note. Furthermore the only studies that claim a sports franchise is a financial benefit to the community are those paid for by the franchise. Lastly, I wonder which multi-millionaire spends more time “living” in Wisconsin; Lasry or Michaels?