Governor Scott Walker has embarked on a rampage of harsh budget cuts to try to make up for the severe damage that his tax breaks for the rich and big corporations have dealt to the state’s economy. His budget proposal hits everything from pollution cleanup programs ($5.7 million) to public schools ($127 million) and the University of Wisconsin ($300 million). On Thursday, Walker revealed where some of that money would be going- to build a new basketball stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The team has been pressuring the state to build them a new stadium, and the owner has been hinting at moving the team away if they don’t get it. The proposed stadium is projected to cost $500 million dollars- half provided by the team and owners, $80 million directly from the Wisconsin taxpayers, and $170 million from “other local sources”, which is likely a euphemism for “the taxpayers”. Walker’s trying to sell this plan to the public with the slogan “Cheaper to Keep Them”, arguing that it is a solid long term investment that will repay its cost three times over.
But studies have shown time and time again that stadiums do not bring enough economic benefits to make up for their massive cost. Economics professor at Wisconsin Area Technical College, Michael Rosen, says that “You could do more for the local economy by taking a plane over the city of Milwaukee and dropping $500 million dollars down. That would generate more economic activity than building a stadium.”
One of the hallmarks of Scott Walker’s governorship is the consistent disregard for the interests and well-being of everyday Wisconsinites, siding with corporations and the wealthy at every opportunity. While it is improper for the Milwaukee Bucks to hold the state hostage until it gets a new team, Walker didn’t have to give in. Even Milwaukee’s ultraconservative sheriff David Clarke called the plan “snake oil” and “corporate welfare.”
Walker’s upcoming budget proposal is an appalling attempt at “starving the beast”. The University of Wisconsin is bracing for a massive wave of layoffs; several majors are being eliminated entirely at UW-Stevens, including some which still have students enrolled. The long-term effects on Wisconsin’s youth will be harsh, according to teacher Bob Peterson: “Over the last several years we’ve seen more kids in each classroom, less individual attention for children, and cuts to music, art, and physical education programs…There are also way fewer guidance counselors and social workers, and given the Depression-like economic conditions that are in the community here, that’s a real serious problem. They now don’t have time to give kids guidance around post-high school possibilities like technical schools, apprenticeships or college.”
Opposition to the plan is growing across the state as the details of the plan leak out to the public. Coalitions have formed to protest and to gain a voice in the discussions, attempting to ensure at least some kind of input and oversight over the deal. Michael Rosen did not mince words with his condemnation of Walker’s proposal: “This deal was cut by people who were born with silver spoons in their mouths,” he said. “They don’t know what it means to live in inner city districts. They don’t have contact with people like the students I teach every day from Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods, who are working two jobs and can’t get their heads above water. Our elected officials need to better look out for the people of this community, who need parks, who need social services and health care. But all of those things have had no priority. The only priority seems to be making this deal.”
When one considers that the rest of the money from the education cuts is slated to go to property tax relief, which benefits the richest Wisconsinites, it’s appalling to think of what a Scott Walker presidency might look like. At every turn, Walker has sold out his citizens and has actively worked to make the lives of everyday Wisconsinites harder, using their taxes to give welfare to big businesses and the wealthy while slowly eliminating the public institutions upon which so many rely on. This proposed stadium is just adding insult to injury.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.