Tuesday, March 17, 2015

You're Not Building That

I always figured it would be Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett that would derail the new downtown arena and entertainment district project.  The new owners of the Bucks have already committed $150-million to the arena.  Former owner Herb Kohl is donating $100-million.  Governor Scott Walker surprised many by offering $220-million in taxpayer-backed municipal bonds for the project.  But Mayor Barrett has been dragging his feet, refusing to make any financial commitment to the arena project other than to say the city might create a Tax Incremental Financing District to cover the cost of infrastructure improvements.  By that, he probably means paying to tear up the surrounding streets so he can install tracks for his beloved streetcar system to bring all of those young (white) professionals who are clamoring to live in Downtown Milwaukee--but who just don't have a "retro cool" taxpayer-subsidized public transit format to use to get everywhere so they don't have to buy a car to events at the arena.

But then out of nowhere comes President Obama to perhaps block Milwaukee's shot at a new arena.  Tucked into the President's current budget proposal is a measure that would bar cities, counties and states from issuing tax-free municipal bonds to pay for sports stadiums and arenas.  It's the President's position that sports franchise owners are mostly billionaires and they can afford to pay for their own state-of-the-art facilities every 20-years or so--instead of having taxpayers do it for them--or threatening to leave town unless they get a good deal.  That would put the kibosh on the state's $220-million commitment to the Milwaukee arena project--a major hole that the owners of the Bucks likely would not be willing to fill with their cash (even though as President Obama would point out--two of the three principal owners are ranked in Forbes Magazine's 400 Richest Americans).

Given that the anti-stadium funding proposal is in the President's budget--and that Congress, even with a Democratic majority for his first two years in office has NEVER passed a budget during his entire term--it's unlikely that the death knell will fall on the Milwaukee arena plan from Washington.

 But what if President Obama decided to make this happen the way he does with pretty much everything else he wants to do?  Remember, he has a pen and he has a phone--and he is not afraid to use them.  Who's to stop him if he decides to just issue an Executive Order to block taxpayer funding of stadiums?  Actually, I would encourage him to do that--just so those on the "other side" get a little taste of that medicine.  Then he can use his phone to call up his "buddy" Tom Barrett and tell him that he's sorry that he killed the Milwaukee Bucks and any hope for redevelopment of downtown and the near north side in order to make sure that "rich people pay their fair share".  Of course--because he came up through politics doing things the "Chicago Way", he would salve the wound by offering Barrett additional Federal funding for his train set--I mean streetcar system--to take those young (white) professionals past the rotting hulk of the vacant Bradley Center every half hour.

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