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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Milwaukee power players like Tim Sheehy, Chris Abele, Tom Barrett and Marc Marotta have to convince the public to fund a Downtown entertainment complex. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Stop whining and pay the arena freight, Milwaukee


It's been just about a week since Wes Edens and Marc Lasry were introduced as the prospective new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, and things seemed to have settled down a bit with the hand wringing over the construction of a new "Bucks arena" somewhere in the city.

Some reports about possible deadlines and who these guys are have trickled out, but no real news of a plan has been rolled out. And it likely won't be for some time.

But what got people up in arms, naturally, was Wisconsin's dirty word – taxes.

Honestly, I'm not sure why.

Stuff is cheap here.

I remember when I moved to Milwaukee and heard people still (still!) whining about the miniscule tax that is paying for Miller Park, and I asked my girlfriend (and now wife) if she was enraged by this, too. I mean, she wasn't a Brewers fan, so why should she have to pay for that? She had no idea what I was talking about. Never noticed it.

I talked to some buddies who were Marquette University alumni, relatively recent graduates with some debt who were now business professionals in the city. Were they outraged by this? No.

People get all worked up over the idea of a tax, than the actual number itself. Let's be real. If you're buying a $30,000 car, an extra $200 or whatever it comes out to isn't a big deal in the scheme of it. Do a better job negotiating that out of your final price if you're that upset by it.

There's room for small taxes outside of just extending the Miller Park tax (and rebranding it an entertainment tax) or somehow working this complex into the Wisconsin Center District.

Milwaukee is a major city. It has its problems, sure. But there's wiggle room for an increased tax number here.

Chicago has a sales tax rate of 9.25 percent, compared to 6.75 percent around the rest of Illinois. On top of that, the city imposes a 0.25 percent restaurant tax and downtown restaurants must levy an additional 1 percent tax for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which runs Navy Pier and McCormick Place.

That's 10.75 percent tax on that dinner when people visit the Windy City.

Oh, there's more. Chicago has a hotel tax rate of 16.39 percent.

Comparing Chicago to Milwaukee isn't quite apples to apples, but even Minneapolis has a 10.775 combined sales and meals tax in its downtown area. There is also a 3 percent entertainment tax on food and drink if it's served where there is live entertainment. Minneapolis' hotel tax is low however, at just 2.625 percent.

Milwaukee?

The meal tax here is .05 percent. The basic hotel room tax is 2.5 percent. Sales tax is a mere 5.6 percent.

There's room there for slight increases that won't be felt.

Need I mention that Wisconsin only has a 6-cent beer tax, compared to 23 cents in Illinois, 19 cents in Iowa and 12 cents in Indiana? Why not create a Bucks themed scratch-off lottery ticket?

These ideas seem like an easy way to raise some money – because let's face it – in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, people will complain about the increased tax rate on alcohol while buying the same amount of it, and then scratching off a Bango face with the bottle cap.

Now, someone might say this is the old "if your friend jumps off a bridge, would you do it too?" argument. I'm sure many feel that all these other major American cities are suckers for publicly financing their pro sports team stadiums.

Here's the thing, though – the people of Wisconsin have gotten a great deal so far and the details aren't even out yet.

No city, or state, gets a $200 million down payment on a new, multipurpose complex.

Edens told me as much when we first met.

And, more private money will be secured before a balance is rolled out to the public.

If the new ownership group winds up having to sell the team back to the NBA in 2017, the people of Wisconsin will relegate their marquee city a second-class citizen on the national landscape.

No matter what you think of sports, how ridiculous it is, how overpaid the athletes are, or that the "money should be spent elsewhere" – having multiple professional sports teams in your town makes your city a big-time player.

Think about it.

If the Brewers are left alone, Milwaukee becomes … what? San Antonio? Oklahoma City? Jacksonville? Ugh.

I'm sure some would like it to become Portland, but the city won't allow for strip clubs Downtown and, frankly, we don't have an ocean about two hours away.

Name every important city in this country. Professional sports are an integral part of its culture, and its economy. It is here in Milwaukee, too. I'm a taxpayer and I won't mind keeping it that way.


Talkbacks

rainbowtrout | April 27, 2014 at 9:04 a.m. (report)

This kind of condescending attitude among the tax supporters is hurting their cause immensely. Another huge problem is that the Miller Park tax was supposed to end and never did. Just another reason to never, ever trust Government.

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fetlarpo | April 25, 2014 at 5:19 p.m. (report)

Politically speaking this is Barrett's hot mess. If your Chris Abele your writing up your own tombstone. No amount of money, will stop Sue Black running against you on the left or David Clark on the right in the next County election. As for Barrett, there is an old Tommy THompson saying, Stick it to them...that is the city of Milwaukee.

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mikeb | April 25, 2014 at 12:54 p.m. (report)

Good point by BTZZZ. Jim is living in an alternate universe where one gets a press pass to go to the games. dannyhurtle, I guess I should amend that to say that franchise values in our major sports are skyrocketing. How does a new arena help out the Milwaukee Wave? How does a new arena help Marquette or the Admirals? Which concerts are we missing out on because we don't have a new arena? The public financing of arenas and stadiums is near an end. Progressive Seattle lost a team because they refused to build an arena. The only way they get one back is if Howard Schultz or Steve Ballmer or some other guy reaches into their pocket. The new arena in San Francisco will be privately funded.

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mlaskin | April 25, 2014 at 11:46 a.m. (report)

It's not the tax, it's that the Bucks do not win games. They had to have the Pettit center in order to play better and now the need bigger and better so they can compete. Try being a winning time before Milwaukeeans have to pay for another arena that they don't win in.

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dannyhurtle | April 25, 2014 at 9:15 a.m. (report)

mikeb, you're right about Illinois having lower income tax and (in some areas) some lower real estate taxes, but "Sports is a really profitable business" is not true across the board (just ask Sue Black). The BMO Harris BC isn't just about the Bucks, it's everything that goes on there year round. MKE has to stop acting like a town and more like a city if it wants to stay viable. Great article!

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