Following up on our earlier coverage, sports fans are probably familiar with a familiar dynamic: a local franchise wants an expensive new facility; it wants taxpayers to pick up the tab; and the team’s owners have made clear that without a new home, they’ll abandon the community and move the team elsewhere.
That’s exactly what’s happening in Wisconsin, where the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks not only want out of the Bradley Center, which opened way back in 1988, and also want a new half-billion-dollar arena.
That left Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) with a decision to make, though it apparently wasn’t an especially tough call for him. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports today that the Republican governor left the presidential campaign trail to seal an expensive deal.
Gov. Scott Walker signed the Milwaukee Bucks arena funding bill Wednesday morning at the Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park. […]He’s repeatedly cited the income taxes Wisconsin would lose if the team leaves the state, and he said it was about protecting the state’s taxpayers.
In fairness, this isn’t a situation in which Walker simply signed a massive check and handed it over to the Bucks’ owners. The price tag will be spread out over several years, and some of the money will include the sale of public land.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the far-right governor, who claims to be a fiscal conservative and who’s repeatedly slashed public investments in niceties such as education, made a significant financial commitment on behalf of taxpayers. All told, Wisconsin residents will pony up between $400 million and $450 million for this new venue.
David Dayen had a great piece on this in Salon yesterday, calling this and related deals classic examples of “corporate welfare.”
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.
And what about the arguments that these projects are good for the local economy? As regular readers may recall, the economic impact of new venues tends to be wildly exaggerated. It’s led some Democrats at the federal level to propose ending “the issuance of tax-free government bonds for professional sports facilities” altogether.
But those efforts haven’t yet come to fruition, and they come too late to help taxpayers in Wisconsin.
Postscript: If you haven’t seen John Oliver’s report on this subject, I highly recommend it.