It's So Easy Spending Other People's Money

It's So Easy Spending Other People's Money

By Gene Mueller. CREATED Apr 19, 2014


With all the dollars being tossed around Milwaukee the past week, you'd think we'd be tired spending money.

First we saw the Bucks change hands to the tune of $550 million, far more than many thought the faltering NBA franchise would go for.  A classic case of supply and demand explains how something that went for $18 million in the mid 1980's could grow so obscenely expensive today: there's a fixed number of professional basketball franchises on the planet, at least those sporting Jerry West as the league logo. 


Within hours of that news, the freshly minted owners joined the guy they bought the team from in tossing $200 million onto the pile that's going to be needed to build the Bucks the new facility the NBA says they have to have.  That's a lot of cash by anyone's taking, but it's barely half of what's needed to get the job done.




And that's where the spending of everyone else's dollars accelerates: whose wallets will help fill the chasm between what's pledged and what's needed?

I'm not going to name names because I was raised to believe it's not polite to assume the generosity of others, to spend cash that's not yours.. You know who these folks are, though, because the speculation is running rampant elsewhere.

What I DO know is this: most if not all of the folks tossing those names around as they talk about the new arena at the corner bar or at holiday gatherings this weekend have no desire and absolutely zero appetite themselves to add a single penny of their tax dollars to the needed heap. 

Bupkus. Nada. Nil.

The first new day of Bucks ownership had barely dawned when a colleague of mine opined thusly: They're BILLIONAIRES, let them pay for it themselves. Others point to Herb Kohl's contribution, one that he vowed beforehand would not be an insignificant amount, in his clumsy words, and indeed it wasn't. $100 million is large, but there's a school of thought that believes it's not enough, considering he made $532 million on paper with Wednesday's transaction. 

The prevailing local belief is that the new building is a playground for the rich, and thus should be paid for by the rich. I won't sit in the coveted luxury boxes, the premium court side seats, the exclusive clubs they say.  Hell, many wonder if they'll be able to afford a ticket in the nose-bleeds.  Why should my tax dollars support a venture I'm priced out of before mortar joins the first two bricks, they ask?  We have other, more pressing priorities, they say, better places to spend our cash. Shouldn't those things come first?

Poverty is a municipal shame. MPS is broken. Infrastructure needs repair. The list is endless.  Yet is there any push to throw more money at any of these problems?  The money to fix what's wrong municipally--or to build a new sports palace--isn't piled up in some mysterious heap somewhere. It's going to have to be created and culled from our pocketbooks and money clips.  Who wants to be the first to lead the charge for more taxes for either cause?

Thought so.



Then there's the state of pro hoop in our community: the Bucks are the worst team in the Association and they have the numbers to prove it, both in the standings and at the turnstiles. It can't get worse, but it might be a while before things get better.  The face of the franchise--or at least is best-recompensed athlete--has a propensity for bad life choices including a taste for weed and a desire to be clubbing/bar fighting while his next child is mere hours from birth.  Winning changes everything and this truly IS a pro hoop town when there's a viable product on the floor. New sheriffs are in town and no job at the northwest corner of 4th and State is safe. A culture change is coming but there'd but no momentum for a new arena tax even if there were five fresh championship banners wafting in the BMO Harris Bradley Center rafters this morning.  Just remember how hard the Packers had to push for the Lambeau renovation levy, even after the club's Holmgren/Wolf/Harlan/Favre renaissance. 

And that's the Green Bay freakin' PACKERS.

It's not polite to spend other people's cash, but it's going to take a lot more of it to make a new arena happen in Milwaukee.  Wednesday is a nice start but others will have to join the former owner and his replacements to close the gap.  Tax incremental financing, new tax streams that don't involve the cash of locals, naming rights, sponsorship deals, and other revenue sources beyond my pay grade will have to be part of the mix.  And, perhaps, the generosity of others who won't be named here.

It that doesn't cover the bill, don't ask voters to go to the hip, no matter how small the remaining amount.  A Peep has better odds in a microwave. There's more of a chance that the Easter Bunny would pick up the new arena tab before such a municipally reviled request succeeds.

Gene Mueller

Gene Mueller

Gene is a Milwaukee radio legend having spent over 30 years on-air waking up Wisconsin. Start your day with Gene for breaking news, weather, sports, traffic and a laugh!