On Wednesday, Walker signed a bill that would spend $250 million of taxpayers’ money to build the new arena. Last year, the team TISI +% was purchased by two billionaire hedge fund managers, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens. In what’s become a standard ploy, the new owners threatened to move the team if they didn’t get a new arena.Scott Walker's Misguided Stadium Deal
As the Washington Post reported on Thursday, one of the team’s other owners is Jon Hammes, one of Walker’s top campaign fundraisers. Hammes’ son recently donated $150,000 to a pro-Walker super PAC. For the Hammes, this must feel like a pretty good return on investment: $150K plus some fundraising work in return for $250 million. (Obviously, Walker will deny that there’s been any quid pro quo. But Walker has been working on this deal for months: according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, he included $220 million in state money for the arena in his budget back in February, but state lawmakers took it out.)
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday signed a bill approving $250 million in public funding for a new arena serving the Milwaukee Bucks, which seems to fly in the face of both Walker's presidential campaigning as a fiscal conservative and his insistence that there isn't enough money for things like public education or living wages. In July, when Walker signed the state's new budget, he cut funding to the University of Wisconsin by $250 million.
The usual pitfalls involved in stadium financing are apparent here: unrealistic calculations of return on investment, an underestimated true cost to taxpayers, misplaced priorities, fishy-looking political relationships. Walker can talk all he wants about lowering taxes and cutting waste, but when all is said and done and you include $174 million in bond interest over 20 years, he's sinking upwards of $400 million into a stadium for a team owned by billionaire hedge-fund managers in a state with a projected $2.2 billion deficit. Owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry will kick in $150 million, while former owner and senator Herb Kohl is contributing $100 million, but $93 million in bonds by the Wisconsin Center District will be paid for by an extension of taxes on hotel rooms, car rentals, and food and beverage sales.Scott Walker is America’s biggest hypocrite: The “fiscal conservative” is giving $450 million to wealthy sports owners
Tomorrow, Scott Walker will stand on a stage at State Fair Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and betray virtually every conservative economic principle there is by handing out up to $450 million in taxpayer money to wealthy sports owners to pay for private infrastructure at a time when public infrastructure is crumbling.
The massive sum will go toward the building of a new sports arena for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball franchise, pleasing the team’s billionaire hedge-fund-manager owners, who threatened to move the team if they weren’t given taxpayer tribute. Conservatives in recent years have feigned concern about corporate welfare, and this deal is really the ultimate expression of it: hundreds of millions of dollars from teachers, waitresses, factory workers and shop owners funneled to pay for an aristocrat’s show palace rather than needed public service.
Of all the things desperately wrong with this, perhaps the most salient is the fact that the “old” arena, the BMO Harris Bradley Center, is only 27 years old, inaugurated in 1988. Incredibly, this makes it the 3rd-oldest arena housing a professional basketball franchise, behind only Madison Square Garden in New York and the Oracle Arena in Oakland, both of which have been substantially renovated over the years.
We don’t upgrade anything in this country after 27 years. There are pipes carrying water to homes that date back to the 19th century. In Milwaukee, in fact, hundreds of those pipes burst at a record pace in 2014 due to the cold weather. Seventy-one percent of Wisconsin roads are in mediocre or poor condition, and fourteen percent of its bridges are structurally unsound. If you wanted to prioritize infrastructure projects needing attention in the Badger State, “replacing the arena we built in the late 1980s” would fall down the list, somewhere below “make sure the thing Wisconsinites are riding on in cars doesn’t crash to the ground.”Scott Walker Push For Milwaukee Bucks Arena Subsidy Could Benefit His Fundraising Chief
Real estate mogul Jon Hammes, who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes, is a prominent member of the investor group that owns Milwaukee’s NBA team. Last week CNN reported that he also will serve as the Walker campaign’s national finance co-chairman. Days after that appointment, Walker’s Republican allies in the Wisconsin state Senate backed the governor’s proposal to spend public funds on a new arena for the Bucks.
In his speech announcing his presidential candidacy, Walker presented himself as a free-market conservative and derided what he called a “top-down, government-knows-best approach” to economic policymaking. Hammes serves on the board of a conservative think tank called the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute that says “competitive free markets, limited government, private initiative and personal responsibility are essential to our democratic way of life.”
But under Walker’s proposal, the government would redistribute taxpayer money to a project benefiting Hammes and other Bucks investors.Did Bucks Investors Pay Off Walker?
“However, before Walker proposed the arena deal, Hammes had donated more than $15,000 to his gubernatorial campaigns, according to state campaign finance data,” the publication reported. “Federal records also show that over the last decade, Hammes has donated almost $280,000 to Republican candidates and third-party groups — including more than $14,000 to the Wisconsin Republican Party. Hammes Company in 2010 donated $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which that year spent heavily in support of Walker’s first run for governor. Jon Hammes also contributed $500 to Walker while he was a Milwaukee county executive… Hammes became one of the part owners of the Bucks in 2014. A little more than three months later, Walker unveiled his proposal to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a new arena for the team.”