In July, Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker slashed $250 million in funding from his state's higher education. On Wednesday, he signed a bill approving $250 million in taxpayer money to build a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Walker justifies the bold move as beneficial to taxpayers, arguing not building a new arena would cost less. However, the expected cost for taxpayers, including interest, could escalate to $400 million.
“We think this is a good, solid move, as good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Walker said. "I think anybody investing in the world of small business would say that's a good return on investment."
Walker had been pushing the plan for months given the Bucks’ owner threatened to leave Wisconsin. The conservative governor stressed that, practically speaking, if the team left the state could lose $299 million of tax revenues from NBA salaries in two decades. Yet as Slate notes, the $299 million loss is obviously a lot less significant compared to the $400 million expected toll on taxpayers’ wallets. Plus, Walker is making broad, ambiguous generalizations about the rate NBA salaries will increase.
And of course, it doesn’t help Walker’s case that one of the team’s owners had donated $150,000 to Walker’s Super PAC, another $50,000, and the investor, Jon Hammes, has donated thousands of dollars to Walker’s previous campaigns and Walker even hired him as his national finance co-chairman this year. A possible pay-for-play?
Even Republican allies were quick to criticize Walker’s decision as hypocritical to the candidate’s advocacy for smaller government initiatives.
“Government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums,” said Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers. “The current deal is based on fuzzy math, complicated accounting and millions of taxpayer dollars. Whether it comes from the state, the county, the city or other authority, these are taxpayer dollars.”
No matter what political side of the spectrum you are on, ultimately shoveling money away from higher education (which arguably could onset greater economic growth and opportunity) for superficial public entertainment is a clear waste.