Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters Tuesday morning that he wouldn't bring a public financing proposal for a new Bucks arena to a vote unless he had the numbers to pass it. Less than 12 hours later, it appears he'll get his chance sooner rather than later.
While nothing has been made official, David Ade of CBS 58 in Milwaukee reported early Tuesday evening that a final compromise inserting an arena ticket surcharge in place of a county debt collection provision appears to have clinched the support of enough Democrats to pass in the Senate, the key hurdle to ultimate passage by the full legislature. In response, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) suggested that talks were "still fluid" pending additional meetings Wednesday morning, though WITI Fox6's Ben Handelman reported an hour later that Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) termed the deal "done" and that it would be passed tomorrow. The Journal-Sentinel was more cautious, terming the sides "close to reaching an agreement" after lawmakers met throughout the day on Tuesday. So while no one is saying it won't get done tomorrow, there could be some gamesmanship going on to make sure the Republican leadership follows through on changes sought by key Democratic swing votes.
Here's the Twitter summary from the day:
Hearing from reliable source; WI Senate will meet tomorrow, ticket surcharge will be part of plan, and there are "at least 17 votes" for it.— David Ade (@DavidAdeCBS58) July 14, 2015
We remain in a holding pattern here in Madison, still no official "we have a deal" announcement on Bucks arena plan in the Senate.— David Ade (@DavidAdeCBS58) July 14, 2015
.@SenChrisLarson tells me he's been assured the MKE Co. debt collection idea is out of Bucks plan, and he's voting yes.— David Ade (@DavidAdeCBS58) July 14, 2015
.@SenDarling says WI Senators will caucus Weds at 11 on the Bucks arena. Says she hopes they go to the floor to vote. No guarantee, though.— Shawn Johnson (@SJohnsonWPR) July 14, 2015
.@SenTaylor tells me the Senate will be in session tomorrow, won't say if she's voting for or against Bucks plan right now.— David Ade (@DavidAdeCBS58) July 14, 2015
Based on earlier comments from @speakervos, not sure if logistically Assembly can meet this week if Senate approves. Likely next week.— Save Our Bucks (@SaveOurBucks) July 14, 2015
The County portion was for $50 million in bonds that would cost $80 million total over 20-years. Bucks essentially would fill gap w/tix tax.— Save Our Bucks (@SaveOurBucks) July 14, 2015
Sen. Larson says with county debt out of the deal, he is a firm yes on arena bill. GOP will caucus again tomorrow morning.— A.J. Bayatpour (@AJBayatpour) July 14, 2015
BREAKING: Senator Lena Taylor says a deal is done. The Bucks Arena plan will pass state senate tomorrow.— Ben Handelman (@BenHandelman) July 15, 2015
Some background: the $250 million financing package agreed to by team, state, county and city officials six weeks ago included a controversial provision certifying uncollected Milwaukee county debts to state collection agencies. Under the plan, the state would collect $4 million per year for 20 years that would pay off $55 million in debt (plus interest) for the arena project, with shortfalls taken out of state funding that would otherwise go to the county. A further $93 million in bonding would come from an expanded Wisconsin Center District, with an additional $55 million from the state and $47 million from the city.
However, the writing on the wall suggests the county debt piece will be replaced by a ticket surcharge that would be paid on all events at the new arena, a funding option that's quickly gained bipartisan support over the past two weeks despite opposition from the Bucks. Note that the BMO Harris Bradley Center currently has its own ticket surcharge of $2 for most tickets, producing an estimated $1.5 million in revenue last year. No one's said anything about how much a new surcharge might cost, though if annual attendance was in the range of one million total visitors, a fee of around $4 per ticket could on paper produce roughly the same amount annually as the previously proposed debt collection arrangement. The end result will presumably be some combination of marginally higher ticket costs to fans and lower margins for the Bucks, with the obvious upside being that it hits beneficiaries of the arena (the team and people who want to go to games) rather than "taxpayers" more broadly. That also means that the "public" funding piece would for all intents and purposes drop to just south of $200 million in total.
If the Senate does approve, the state Assembly would have to follow suit before Gov. Scott Walker can sign the bill into law, while the City of Milwaukee would also have to approve the deal. To date those approvals have been considered much more straight forward than the Senate, which is why the next 24 hours could prove the most critical milestone in the entire arena process.