Scott Walker cuts $250 million from public universities, wants to give it to Milwaukee Bucks

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recently signed a state budget that included $250 million in cuts to the state’s university system. Yesterday, the Wisconsin State Senate voted 21-10 to give $250 million in public financing to the Milwaukee Bucks — to be used to build a new arena for the team. The bill to subsidize the Bucks now heads to the State Assembly.

When accounting for interest, the state will eventually pay $400 million over 20 years under the proposal. On top of their funding for the stadium’s construction, Wisconsin taxpayers will contribute $4 million per year to the arena, for which they will receive $500,000 per year in revenue from a surcharge on ticket sales. The Bucks have opposed the surcharge.

As Deadspin notes, it isn’t as if the Bucks couldn’t afford to build the arena on their own; they fought for and are on the verge of getting $250 million in public funding because they could:

Marc Lasry, a Bucks co-owner, is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.87 billion, while co-owner Wesley Edens was worth $2.5 billion in 2007 before suffering a downturn (though not so big of one to prevent him from owning an NBA team) in the Great Recession. Together, they will pay just $150 million towards the arena…

…The vote came one day after NBA commissioner Adam Silver claimed that a “significant” number of NBA teams were still losing money. It really is quite a brilliant racket. By crying poor the NBA claws back money from the players, and by teams threatening to move—like the Bucks did just a week ago—they blackmail cities into paying for arenas instead of for desperately needed public services.

As John Oliver detailed in a recent segment, Milwaukee isn’t the only team extorting its local government for money it doesn’t need:

Public funding for stadiums is granted under the premise of spurring economic activity, a claim that economists almost unanimously dispute, as, per Deadspin, “Most of the jobs created are temporary construction ones, and arenas simply shift where leisure money is spent—at the arena instead of at a local movie theater or at a restaurant.” As Oliver cites, the city of Milwaukee would likely see a bigger boost in economic activity if they simply dumped 250 million one dollar bills from a helicopter over its downtown area.

The BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the Milwaukee Bucks currently play, via Wikimedia Commons

The BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the Milwaukee Bucks currently play, via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, keeping $250 million in the state’s public university system would be a net-positive for the state in the long run.

Public funding for sports stadiums is one of the few issues in which a constituency that is generally politically apathetic — sports fans — are able to trump strong partisans on both the left and right. As Deadspin pointed out in their story, there is something for liberals and conservatives alike to hate when the government throws money at already-wealthy sports teams: it unnecessarily distorts the market, exacerbates inequality and comes at the expense of necessary public services.

And yet, all a team has to do is threaten to move, and their fans all of a sudden become active democratic citizens, flooding town meetings and writing letters to their representatives warning them that if the team leaves, they will hold those who voted against stadium funding personally responsible.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Bributly

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  • Bistod

    I get it now. You just don’t understand how percentages work. When you divide two numbers you have to multiply by 100 to get a percentage. 0.02 after dividing is 2%.

  • Faux Hipster

    If you’re taking a yearly budget of $6 billion, and dividing the 2-year $250 million by the budget, it’s .02% of the budget. 125m/6b = .02%. Actually, I was incorrect as well because the $250 million is over two years, which would result in an even lower percentage over 2 years. $12b/$250m = .00002%.

  • Bistod

    So my comment had a typo, but if I used 6,000,000 instead of 6,000,000,000 when doing the math on my calculator it would have been 2,000%. Try actually using a calculator and dividing 125/6,000. This is pretty basic math. 6 billion (With a B) x .04% = 2,400,000, which is quite a bit less than 125,000,000.

  • Faux Hipster

    Yeah, you should re-check your work there, Einstein. The budget is 6 Billion with a “B.” You used 6 Million in your faulty math equation. He’s correct, it’s .04% of the budget. You should stick to whatever doesn’t include solving math problems.

  • Doug105
  • 2karmanot

    Howabout: Waroll? a new breed altogether.

  • 2karmanot

    ppppppfffffttttt

  • Moderator3

    Technically, I wouldn’t call him a troll, just a Scott Walker apologist.

  • Bistod

    Your argument would mean a lot more if you actually did the math. $125,000,000/$6,000,000 = 2.08% which is quite a bit higher than the .04% you claimed. The UW system has 182,000 students, so a 2% budget cut removes funding that supports almost 3,800 students.

  • therling

    Troll alert.

  • therling

    My father was a poor kid from a small farm just outside Madison. He got an affordable education at UW-M in the middle of the Depression and ultimately became a successful university librarian. (He got his Masters on the GI Bill.) Along with my mother, saw five kids go to college, two of whom got Masters, one who got a Ph.D. We have all paid far more in taxes than we would have had he been stuck on that farm.

    He would be absolutely appalled at Scott Walker is doing to Wisconsin. Today would have been his 98th birthday. On behalf of my father, fuck you, Scott Walker.

  • Fireblazes

    That’s it, just keep believing the billionaire’s bullshit.

  • Fireblazes

    I would argue that in the long term, a well educated populace will spur more economic development than any rich man’s greed.

  • Demosthenes

    This is a classic example of corporate favoritism (crony capitalism). Take from the poor (starving public universities of funding) and giving to the rich (monied sports team owners).

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    “Sing out Louise!” Seriously, that’s a big pet peeve of mine. I cannot afford to go to these beautiful stadiums.

  • Exactly. I have no problem with fancy skyboxes so long as they pay for themselves. Actually that should be a huge revenue generator for whoever paid for building the stadium. Instead the local taxpayers paid a huge amount and then the profits go into someone else’s pockets? That should be happening.

  • DGT

    For me, the biggest travesty isn’t even that public funds are used to build these stadiums. It’s that the public who pays for them can’t even enjoy them. You would think that, in exchange for providing taxpayer money to build the stadium, the taxpayers would be able to attend games at a reasonable price.

    Instead, the reverse happens. Ticket prices soar, and the average person can’t afford to even attend. To watch an NFL game (at a stadium paid for with your taxes) costs a minimum of $100/person. Even baseball games are $40+ per ticket. It’s nuts. You would think that taxpayer-supported events would be free or for a nominal cost, but instead, the money just subsidizes entertainment for people wealthy enough to pay thousands of dollars for season tickets.

  • olandp

    How about fair market rent? It just amazes me that the taxpayer keeps financing new facilities and upgrades every few years, yet see almost no return, if any at all.

    Swimming pools on top of the stadium for what, six or eight afternoons? Absolutely insane.

  • Or at least a revenue stream. Like all the parking fees charged. The claim is that these new stadiums are good for area businesses but they’re really not.

    http://crooksandliars.com/2015/07/john-oliver-explains-why-taxpayers-should

  • Yes, 125 million is a large amount of cuts. That is not in any way insignificant.

    But here’s the bigger question. The Bucks are a for-profit organization. Why should the city and county be paying anything for their new building. Do they have to build new buildings for every company that wants one? Cities should get together and stop giving in to sports organizations that threaten to leave town if the taxpayers don’t cough up hundreds of millions of dollars.

  • Joseph Murphy

    The author didn’t even come close with his facts. All he had to do was a little research and maybe he could offer a fairly close narrative of what took place. The cuts from UW was 250 million over 2 years. That comes to 125 million per year. The UW budget is 6 billion per year. The cut represents a little over .04% of the total budget. Think they can get by on 5.9 billion dollars? The bucks arena was not in the same budget as the UW system. In a separate measure the state, the city of MIlwaukee and the county of Milwaukee are financing 250 million dollars and the Bucks are kicking in 250 million dollars. There is no connection between the Bucks arena and the UW System budget. If you are going to present yourself as an authority on something you should do some research on your subject matter. Anybody can rip and print juicy stories from the web now days.

  • That Buck fucker!

  • Indigo

    Public funding vs. private funding, it’s an on-going question. Here in Orlando, it seems the over-funded Magic basketball team with its astonishing expenditures that are never paid back is taking back seat to the Orlando Lions, a new soccer franchise, has already sold out its annual passes for the coming season, 14,000 tickets! And to sweeten the pot, the team is buying its own land and financing it’s own stadium. Hard to beat that for popular appeal without raiding the the municipal treasure chest.

  • ammm_tomas
  • Jim

    If they want 250 million then they should give about 25 percent equity to the state and or city given that the Bucks are worth in the ball part of a billion dollars.

  • Jim

    They are not municipally owned, they are sort of a publically owned team in that they do offer stock but it has no voting rights and receives no dividends and can not be traded.

  • Don Chandler

    From a Bloomberg article in 2010:

    “In San Francisco voters rejected public money for a new stadium four times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. So the team went ahead and found sponsors and investors. The $357 million park, which gets rave reviews, is home to what Forbes pegs as the 9th most valuable team at $483 million. (My only knock on it is the pervasive smell of garlic fries.) The last park to be built without public funds was Dodger Stadium.”

    Think the Giants were the laughing stock of Baseball for not going the public funding way. But hey, that Bloomberg article was written in 2010. Now Bloomberg ranks the SF Giants as the number 4 most valuable franchise. All Wisconsin needs is Garlic Fries and a new governor.

  • woodroad34

    You mean like Josh Duggar?

  • CheeseHead.4.Life

    Leave the boy scouts out of this. They are too busy protecting the children from all the sex-crazed homosexual (AKA, pedophiles) scout leaders.

  • It’s legalized plundering of taxpayer dollars, soon to be followed by extortion from the sports franchises — which are nearly always owned by multi-millionaires and billionaires — for more money in just a few years’ time.

    That Scott Walker and his GOPer cronies want to plunder higher education and redirect the funds for “bread and circuses” (and the enrichment of the plutocratic bastard class) says everything about the depravity of their priorities.

  • atalex

    The only major league sports team I will ever support is the Green Bay Packers. Because they are MUNICALLY OWNED like all major league sports teams should be. If the taxpayers have to pay for the team’s upkeep, the taxpayers should reap the profits.

  • woodroad34

    I’ll bet the Boy Scouts want to take back his Eagle Scout badge for being so obviously stupid. He hasn’t the brains God gave a Palin.

  • DoverBill

    Here’s a novel idea: ya want 250 mil then simply sign a contract to remain in this stadium for oh, let’s say, 30 years unless ya get the taxpayers permission to move your franchise.

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