When retired US Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) sold the Milwaukee Bucks, the National Basketball Association (NBA) approved the deal contingent upon a new arena being built by 2017. Wihout the new arena, the NBA would by the team from the new owners and sell it to the highest bidder, which would mean the team would probably leave Milwaukee.
Even though three of the major owners combined are worth $5 billion dollars, they were only willing to put in $250 million of their own money, about half of the projected cost of the new arena.
The land developers, commercial realtors and business groups immediately started putting pressure on state and local officials to pay for the rest of the cost. With the eager cooperation of the corporate media, the message quickly went from should the public help pay for the arena to how much should the public pay. To add pressure, they changed it from building a new arena to building a whole new arena district.
Scott Walker, as he usually does, caved in to the wealthy special interests, and came up with a cockamamie scheme on how he would borrow money to pay for the state's share - almost the same amount he cut from higher education - and the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County would chip in the rest.
When this plan appeared to be dead in the water, in comes Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a plutocrat who just happened to buy a $2 million condo next to the proposed development site, with an even worse idea. Abele's plan is to increase the county's share of the cost by handing over cases of uncollected taxes and court fines to mercenary debt collection agencies, who would add 15% to the money they collect from already indigent people. On top of that, Abele would sell county-owned land worth $9 million to the Bucks owners for a buck.
Needless to say, this idea is already going over like a lead balloon:
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Several local officials are also speaking out against the county’s promise to collect $4 million per year in unpaid debts from residents, plus a penalty fee of 15 percent, to contribute to the stadium. For example, a woman who owed $1,000 for an old traffic ticket would be charged $1,150.
Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan, Jr. called the proposal to go after unpaid ambulance rides, delinquent property taxes and court fees “crony capitalism.”
“This plan shifts the cost of the new arena from the state and the Milwaukee Bucks’ new wealthy owners to the poorest in our community,” he said. “I will not foreclose on someone’s home or shake down a senior for unpaid medical bills in order to build an arena for millionaires and billionaires.”
Whether or not it’s morally right to collect these debts to pay for the stadium, some county officials say it may not be possible, because most of the residents that owe that money are indigent.
County comptroller estimated in an official report that the county could only collect about 2 percent of the money they’re promising — in part because much of the unpaid court fees would go to restitution for victims of crimes if they ever got collected.
“This is phony money. This is hocus-pocus,” Rosen told ThinkProgress. “They won’t be able to collect it, and if they do, it’s going to come from our poorest citizens, and that’s outrageous.”
The public is not very keen on this corporate welfare plan and are becoming increasingly vocal about it. At the first (and so far only) public hearing on the arena, the people came out in force to be heard. Tea Partiers and progressive liberals found common ground in opposing the giveaway:
Opponents, however, contended that the benefits were being oversold and questioned why the creation of Miller Park didn't spark a similar revival.
Several noted the wealth of Edens, Lasry and Dinan.
"This is just another giveaway for out-of-state billionaires," said Steve Shea.
Some said Milwaukee had other needs, including providing help for chronically homeless people.
"I think we need to look at priorities here," Peggy Schultz said.
Another noted Abele's recent purchase of a condo at the Moderne high-rise, which is next to the Park East strip.
"Now, if I were Chris," said Ann Batiza, "I would love for that empty lot to be developed into a thriving business district."
To make matters even worse, for the high cost to the community, there is absolutely no evidence that the promised economic benefits would ever be realized.
Even more disconcerting is that part of the deal that Abele made with Walker and state legislators is that the Milwaukee County Board could be taken completely out of the decision making process, which would effectively silence the voice of the people at the same time.