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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker proposed a plan Tuesday that calls for Wisconsin to help build a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks with $220 million in bonds that would be funded by projected growth in income taxes from NBA players.
The Republican governor said his "Pay Their Way" proposal would protect state taxpayers and keep the team in Milwaukee. A new arena in downtown Milwaukee could cost about $450 million to $500 million.
New owners bought the team last April and have promised to contribute $150 million toward the new arena. Former owner and ex-U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has promised $100 million of his own money to help replace the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which was built in 1988.
Under what Walker called a "first-of-its-kind" plan, the more than $6.5 million that's collected from taxes on the salaries of the Bucks and visiting NBA players would continue to go to the state's general fund. Walker said that figure is expected to grow due to rising salaries and revenue from the NBA's TV contracts, so any money above $6.5 million would be used to pay off the bond by 2046.
"I think it's arguably the most fiscally conservative idea in the country for a professional sports team," Walker said at a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce meeting. "We're having them pay their own way. It's not coming out of revenues from anywhere else. It's not coming from new taxes. It's keeping the foundation we have today."
The plan would be included in the state budget proposal to be submitted by the governor to the Legislature next week.
The Bucks hope to settle on a site for a new home in the next month. Team president Peter Feigin thanked Walker for the plan.
"The governor's support brings Wisconsin closer to creating a new state-of-the-art venue and entertainment destination that will become an economic catalyst for the entire state," Feigin said in a statement.
The Bucks could leave Milwaukee in 2017 if there is no new arena — a move that would cost the state nearly $10 million per year in income tax collections alone, Walker said. The deadline is part of the agreement of last year's team sale. The NBA could refund the money to the new owners and take possession of the team for a possible relocation.
"That's not an idle threat. That's just the facts," Walker said. "I can't ignore the fact that if we do nothing, it is not a cost-neutral proposition."
Another condition of the agreement would require the Bucks' new owners to pay off the bonds if they sell the team.
"By asking the Milwaukee Bucks to pay their own way, we are protecting state taxpayers," Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said. "However, it's important to note that in order for the state to be a partner in this endeavor, we would expect the city and county to be part of the equation as well."
Milwaukee Common Council President Michael J. Murphy was scheduled to meet with team officials on Wednesday to learn more about the proposal.
Republicans control both the state Senate and Assembly, but some conservatives raised concerns about borrowing money to help the Bucks. Rep. John Nygren, a Republican co-chair of the budget-writing committee, said Walker's proposal was "a starting point for discussion."
The Legislature will debate the budget over the next several months, with a final vote likely sometime in June.
The rebuilding Bucks were 22-22 going into Wednesday night's game in Miami. First-year coach Jason Kidd has turned Milwaukee into one of the league's top defensive teams a year after a franchise-worst 15-win season.
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