Presidential Candidate Scott Walker Cut $250 Million from Wisconsin Education Budget—Used it Instead to Fund Stadium for Milwaukee Bucks

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Gov. Scott Walker explains how taxpayers will pay to keep the Bucks in Wisconsin (AP photo)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, seeking the Republican nomination for president, is receiving some criticism for his decision to support a new basketball arena after cutting funds for the state’s university system.


It turns out both decisions had the same price tag, at least on the surface: $250 million.


Walker approved a state budget that slashed a quarter of a billion dollars from the University of Wisconsin, then followed that up by signing a bill that calls for taxpayers to pay for half the $500-million cost of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. The action was taken under threat from NBA officials that, if it wasn’t done, they would relocate the team to Seattle or Las Vegas. The New York Times’ Michael Powell characterized it as a classic “arena-shakedown…right out of the professional sports owner handbook.” He called its timing “inauspicious.”


“It is difficult to think of a clearer illustration of a politician’s comically misplaced priorities,” Jordan Weissman wrote at Slate. Although the state is supposed to pay $250 million for the arena, once interest on the bonds is factored in, taxpayers will end up paying closer to $400 million, noted Weissman.


Democratic Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele, who worked with Walker and his staff to structure the deal, confessed that he nonetheless opposed it. “If Congress considered a law that would prevent any public financing for sports stadiums, I would support that,” he told the Times.


Walker’s cutting of a quarter of a billion dollars from the school system came as he signed the new state budget just 24 hours before announcing his presidential candidacy. The education cut was Walker’s “most damaging and telling attack on the public sector,” according to Bob Peterson, former president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. In addition to the cut, “tenure is no longer protected by state law but instead will be determined by the University’s Board of Regents, most of whom are gubernatorial appointees,” he wrote. “K-12 public schools were particularly decimated. Shortly before the budget’s signing, Wisconsin State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers publicly requested that Walker veto more than 20 education measures that would undermine the state’s public schools. Walker refused.”


A conservative Republican seen as a serious contender for the White House by GOP figures, Walker agreed to the stadium deal despite criticism from fiscal hawks opposed to the idea.


The deal also helps the Bucks’ owners, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, who “are big donors to the Democratic Party,” according to Powell. “Lasry has bundled tens of thousands of dollars for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and his hedge fund once employed her daughter, Chelsea,” Powell wrote.


The stadium financing could prove especially hard for residents of Milwaukee County, which will have to pay $4 million a year for 20 years on the bonds. “If the county fails to come up with its payments, the state could deduct the money from annual aid to the county,” Powell said.


Some state lawmakers, like Assemblyman Jonathan Brostoff, opposed the stadium plan. “We are building an arena for two of the richest people in the U.S.A. and they are just asking for more,” Brostoff told the Times. “If aliens came down and looked at this, they’d say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Bucks’ Owners Win, at Wisconsin’s Expense (by Michael Powell, New York Times)

Scott Walker Cut $250 Million From Wisconsin Colleges. Now He’s Blowing $250 Million on a Basketball Arena (by Jordan Weissman, Slate)

Gov. Scott Walker Savages Wisconsin Public Education in New Budget (by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post)

Wisconsin Judges Who Received Campaign Funds from Business Groups Order Destruction of Evidence about Groups’ Connection with Gov. Scott Walker (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Scott Walker’s Office Unable to Provide Written Proof of his Communications with God (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Steve Hines 8 years ago
Yeah, but, that education money would have been put into education. Why should anyone do that when there are sports stadiums and private interests that also want the money? If a governor sees it as part of his purview to fund education then pretty soon we will have children who can read and write and everyone know what kinds of problems immature minds entertaining fancy ideas might create.

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