Instead Of Focusing On Investing In Wisconsin Roads, Schools and Communities, Republicans Score for Professional Sports Team and Developers
By Senator Janet Bewley
In a short two week period, the Republican-led Senate has made it clear who and what their priorities are. And the sad part is that you are not on their list. Last week it was the 2015-2017 State Budget. This week it was a bill that spends over 400 million dollars of taxpayer money to build a new basketball arena in Milwaukee.
As many of you know, the new state budget cuts 250 million dollars from the University of Wisconsin System, and sends even less money to our public schools than they got in 2010. It delays vital highway projects and continues to underfund maintenance of our existing roads and bridges. Yet somehow, just a week later, we authorize spending 400 million dollars to build a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks.
How do I tell the parents of children in Northern Wisconsin that we didn’t have enough money to help their local schools, but we did have enough money to help out the billionaire owners of a professional basketball team? How do I explain to parents struggling to pay their sons’ and daughters’ tuition that we’re laying off faculty and staff at UW Barron County, but we’re helping pay the salaries of professional basketball players? How do I tell small business owners in rural Northern Wisconsin that we have to postpone major highway projects and road maintenance, delays that will make it harder for their businesses to succeed, but we’re rushing to break ground on a new sports and entertainment complex in Southeast Wisconsin?
How do I tell the parents of children in Northern Wisconsin that we didn’t have enough money to help their local schools, but we did have enough money to help out the billionaire owners of a professional basketball team?
How we spend our money is the clearest expression of what our values are. No matter what the people who voted for either of these bills say, they are putting the profits of a professional basketball team above the education of our children. They are putting skyboxes ahead of classrooms, professional athletes ahead of local business owners.
Our priorities, as evidenced by the 2015-2017 Budget and the Bucks Arena Bill, are out of whack. I didn’t vote for either of these bills. I tried to convince my colleagues that there was a better way. I’m not giving up. I’m going to continue to fight for the things that I know you care about. What I hear over and over is that we need to invest in Northern Wisconsin. One way we can do that is to change state law to allow small and medium sized cities to use the same tools that enabled Milwaukee to fund and develop their sports and entertainment arena facilities.
I am introducing legislation that would make the exposition district concept that underlies the new
Bucks Arena a viable option for cities other than Milwaukee. My bill will allow communities to invest in projects that are appropriate for their circumstances, on a scale that makes sense for them. Any proposed bonding will have to be approved using proven standards based on projected revenue and an assessment of the feasibility of the proposed project. Voters in the municipality will have to approve the proposed project via a referendum. I believe it is time to give locally elected officials the tools they need to spur economic development in their communities. Hopefully my colleagues will be true to their word and support economic development that benefits the whole state, not just professional sports teams and real estate developers in Milwaukee.
Janet Bewley represents the 25 Senate District for the State of Wisconsin, representing Douglas, Bayfield, Iron, Price, Ashland, Barron, and Washburn counties as well as some parts of Dunn, Burnett, Polk, St. Croix, Sawyer, and Vilas counties.