Viewpoints: Economic impact of Bucks’ championship run shows potential benefit of local option sales tax

Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.
Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

Editor’s note: Today, the Greater Milwaukee Committee distributed this letter to members of the Wisconsin state legislature.

It’s been a productive and exciting summer, with a new biennial budget and a newly crowned NBA championship team in Milwaukee.

The GMC is pleased to see several key priorities funded in the final state budget bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, particularly additional support for early childhood care and education services as well as restoration of funding for ongoing improvement of our transportation infrastructure. We appreciate the Legislature’s support of these important investments that will make our community and the state a better place to live and do business.

Challenges still remain, though, for the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. While recent federal aid has proved invaluable in enabling our community to address challenges presented by COVID-19, those one-time funding sources will not enable the city or county to address their structural funding challenges. As we move forward, on behalf of the Milwaukee business community, we are asking legislators to enable Milwaukee to continue being the state’s economic engine and be globally competitive.

We are acutely aware of the need to maintain efficient operations and lean budgets, a commitment shared by our local governments. Milwaukee County, for example, closed a $320 million budget gap over the past 10 years by implementing historic reforms that streamlined services, enhanced efficiencies, and reduced spending. However, the county cannot continue to solve this problem through expenditure reductions alone. To maintain a balanced budget, Milwaukee County would need to cut an additional $20 million annually over the next 16 years to keep pace with rising costs. This is unsustainable and would result in irreversible damage to our communities, economy, and state.

We also understand the necessity of creating and fostering an economic environment that maintains our economic competitiveness and incentivizes economic growth by attracting capital investment and employees. This requires a tax environment that reduces our nationally high property tax burden, and invests in basic, quality of life services to recruit and retain high-quality talent.

Our local governments in Milwaukee need the opportunity to ask the voters if they’re willing to incur a 1% sales tax increase to leverage our local dollars for local priorities, including property tax relief. Diversifying our local revenue mix, through a dynamic annual revenue source at no budgetary cost to the state, provides a practical and politically acceptable solution that benefits our community.

Instead of imposing higher fees and property taxes, a local option sales tax would result in the lowest cost to taxpayers – and they’d have a voice in whether the tax is implemented.

The highly successful NBA playoff run by the Milwaukee Bucks exemplifies how the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, and ultimately the state, can gain from a local option sales tax.

Fiserv Forum and the neighboring Deer District represents an investment, not an expenditure, as it has become an iconic destination in the city, generating a tremendous economic boost. VISIT Milwaukee estimates the economic impact from just the 11 home playoff games the Bucks played to be $40.7 million, or an average of $3.7 million per game injected into the local economy.

That does not include the ongoing economic investment that the facility provides during a season when it draws people to Milwaukee and the associated developments around the facility, and that pales in comparison to the economic value of Milwaukee being exposed to a worldwide audience through the championship. What would we pay to be on TV for hours on end throughout the entire world? The return on this investment is extremely high.

When also considering the economic impact of annual events in the area such as Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and others, one can see the revenue potential our area is missing out on by not having a local option sales tax.

The economic health of the state requires Milwaukee to be a globally competitive metro-region. As solution-focused business leaders, we stand ready to discuss, partner and collaborate in all efforts to find answers that will make Milwaukee and Milwaukee County a stronger, more vital and dynamic community, and an even greater asset to the great state of Wisconsin.

Thank you,

Julia Taylor, president, Greater Milwaukee Committee; Greg Marcus, president and CEO, The Marcus Corp. David Lubar, president and CEO, Lubar & Co.; Dr. Eve Hall, president and CEO, Milwaukee Urban League; Greg Nickerson, chairman, Bader Rutter; Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO, Greater Milwaukee Foundation

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