A week after criticism from John Oliver, Milwaukee basketball arena gets $250 million Senate approval


The Wisconsin State Senate voted yesterday to approve $250 million in public financing for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. The final cost of the stadium is likely to be even greater, with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pegging it at $400 million after interest.

If that number of $250 million is sticking in your head, it might be because that’s the same amount of money the Senate cut from the University of Wisconsin in its two-year budget passed last week. That budget also removed a restriction on workers putting in more than 7 days in a row and requires food stamp applicants to take a drug test.

The Milwaukee Bucks team president claimed the NBA would have moved the team to Las Vegas or Seattle if they didn’t get a new stadium. Business and labor leaders from Milwaukee have been urging the state to agree to the public financing as a key to economic growth, which is probably what led to the bipartisan 21-10 Senate vote.

Why much of this may sound familiar to anyone not interested in Milwaukee politics is that the basketball team and its coveted arena was featured on a recent episode of HBO’s satirical news program Last Week Tonight. Last Week highlighted ads from the Milwaukee Bucks claiming the new arena would create a “ripple effect” of new economic development and revitalize parts of Milwaukee.

Host John Oliver countered with a review of economic research into public stadium subsidies published by Econ Journal Watch, which states “sports subsidies cannot be justified on the grounds of local economic development, income growth or job creation.”

The Milwaukee Bucks are owned by Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, whose bios on NBA.com describe them as heads of investment groups with billions of dollars in assets. They are putting forward the other half of the stadium’s financing, another $250 million.

The deal still needs to be approved by the Assembly, but Gov. Scott Walker has indicated in the past that he’s in favor of public financing for the Bucks.

Let’s see if running for president changes his mind.

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