Walker isn’t taking point in arena debate

The sale of the Milwaukee Bucks will provide a high-profile taxing and leadership test for Gov. Scott Walker.

The key to keeping the team in Milwaukee is the construction of a modern arena, but that may not be possible without a significant investment of public financing.

Herb Kohl, the former U.S. senator who owned the team, has pledged $100 million, and the new owners have agreed to contribute another $100 million to help finance the new arena. However, public dollars will be needed for such a huge project, according to Franklyn Gimbel, chair of the Wisconsin Center District in downtown Milwaukee.

The boards of three nearby Republican dominated counties – Waukesha, Ozaukee and Racine – have indicated they don’t want to provide any tax money for a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. They are among the counties that are helping pay a 0.1 percent sales tax for Miller Park, the baseball stadium which is home to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Walker doesn’t appear anxious to play an early leadership role on the Bucks arena issue. He has other things on his mind: getting re-elected governor and then competing for the Republican nomination for president or vice president in the 2016 election.

The governor said he first wanted to hear from local officials about the arena situation. Proponents of a new arena say it would hurt Milwaukee’s image as a “major league city” if the Bucks moved to a different city. It’s Walker’s image that could be affected if he were to champion some sort of tax to pay for a new arena.

A new or expanded tax would need the approval of the Legislature and the governor.

Matt Pommer is a veteran correspondent covering the Capitol in Madison. His column is published with permission from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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