While "Fear the Deer!" may be cuter and easier to put on t-shirts and ballcaps, the Milwaukee Bucks should consider "It's Cheaper to Keep Us" as their new rallying cry. That was the main "selling point" that Governor Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett used last Thursday to justify taxpayer funding for a new downtown arena. The argument being that the state would lose more tax revenue if the Bucks move to Seattle or Las Vegas in a couple of years than the state will kick in to keep them here.
"It's Cheaper to Keep Us" also perfectly captures the ambivalence most Wisconsin residents have toward the Bucks as well. When the Green Bay Packers came to lawmakers asking for taxpayer funds to renovate and expand Lambeau Field, nearly everyone in Madison fought to be first in line to offer that assistance--and Brown County voters overwhelmingly approved a half-percent sales tax to "help their team"--even though there was absolutely no chance of them moving to another city. The Packers merely had to claim that the renovations would "make them more competitive in the NFL" and Super Bowl-starved fans couldn't get out their wallets fast enough--even paying for personal seat licenses that are basically meaningless (just like the millions of shares of Packers stock that have also been sold to "help keep the team competitive").
The Brewers tried the same power play as the Bucks are now (we might move to Saint Petersburg!) and met far more resistance--even though they claimed having a new stadium would make them more competitive too. Governor Tommy Thompson famously told lawmakers from out-state Wisconsin to "stick it to them" by instituting a five-county sales tax to build Miller Park--and even then it came down to a last-minute, one-vote margin of victory for that funding plan. And the lawmaker that cast that deciding vote--State Senator George Petak--was recalled from office nine months later as voters in Racine County took their revenge for being included in the sales tax area.
It was Petak's experience that guaranteed there would be no special regional sales tax for the new Milwaukee Arena. That meant the parties involved in this fight would have to use creative accounting like "certifying delinquent taxes" and a "jock tax" to appear like "new revenue" to cover the costs--and far more cash from Bucks ownership than was expected from either the Packers or Bud Selig. And despite all of the assurances that taxpayers are not going to be on the hook for any of the cost of the new facility--support remains tepid at best. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos admits he will have a tough time selling it to his caucus--and even though Republicans enjoy a huge majority in the Assembly, it will likely take support from non-Milwaukee Democrats in that house to pass the plan.
So look for Governor Walker, Speaker Vos and Mayor Barrett to grab their pom-poms and try to rally support for the Bucks and the arena plan over the next few weeks. I just hope they don't expect us all to join in a rousing chant of "It's Cheaper to Keep 'Em!"