Debate escalates on whether Milwaukee, region should pay for new arena

CREATED Feb 25, 2013 - UPDATED: Feb 26, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Bucks need some of your bucks to help replace their home arena, and Milwaukee's mayor says the entire region needs to play a part in paying for it.

Community officials, including Mayor Tom Barrett, believe the BMO Harris Bradley Center's years are numbered and say the city needs a new arena.

"I want Milwaukee to be the home for the Milwaukee Bucks for decades to come," Mayor Barrett said Monday during his State of the City address.

The BMO Harris Bradley Center is the NBA's second-oldest arena.  The only older facility, Madison Square Garden in New York City, has had constant face-lifts to keep it state of the art.

Barrett said sports and concert fans come from outside Milwaukee County, so those communities should be part of funding a new arena.

He stopped short of calling for a new regional sales tax like the one in place for Miller Park.

"I think that's way too premature," Barrett told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray.

The extremely controversial Miller Park stadium district sales tax narrowly passed in the 1990s. In 1995, then Governor Tommy Thompson infamously told an outstate audience to let Southeast Wisconsin foot the bill.

"You don't have to pay any money in Dorchester, all the taxes come from Waukesha and Milwaukee. Stick it to 'em," Thompson said.

Racine County voters even used a recall to kick Senator George Petak out of office in 1996 after he supported the tax.

Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha and Racine Counties are in the stadium tax district and are subject to a 0.1% retail sales tax. It amounts one cent on every ten dollars spent.

"In Racine County, it's an incredibly unpopular tax. Even though everyone loves the Brewers, they just didn't like the way it happened," said Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

The Miller Park stadium district tax was originally supposed to expire in 2014. It is now is projected to remain in place as far out as 2020. Taxpayers owe more than $200 million on the ballpark.

"We are given rosy projections, rosy financials when they come knocking on our doors for money. But, years later, we found, well we miscalculated," said Chris Kliesmet of Citizens for Responsible Government.

Bucks owner and former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl has pledged to help privately fund a new arena for his team, though insiders say it is extremely unlikely that private funds will come close to covering the entire cost.

The Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Admirals and Marquette University men's basketball team all play their home games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.