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Wisconsin State Senate passes Bucks arena funding bill

The Milwaukee Bucks are now one step closer to staying in Milwaukee.

After months of debate, the State Senate Wednesday voted 21-10 to pass a funding plan for a new downtown arena.

\"What the vote shows is that people get it. The Bucks are big bucks for Wisconsin,\" said Sen. Lena Taylor, Milwaukee Democrat. \"They get that it's beyond Milwaukee. It's really beyond the Bucks. It's about Wisconsin and what this means for us as a whole.\"

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele lobbied hard for the bill to pass, but he's not happy with the end result.

Last minute changes to the legislation removed a state debt collection agreement plan. The $4 million generated from the plan over 20 years would have helped the county fund its portion of the arena. Democrats who wanted the collection plan removed said it targeted the poor.

Without it, Abele must now find a way to fill that large hole. But, some lawmakers said he can still get what he wants through the county board.

\"I'm elected to do absolutely everything I can to serve the people of Milwaukee County,\" said Abele. \"So I will work as hard as I can to find any way, any way to fix this.\"

\"It's my understanding there's $80 million of outstanding revenues not being collected,\" said Sen. Alberta Darling, River Hills Republican. \"I would like to think as good stewards of the taxpayers in Milwaukee County, they'd say we should go after those revenues that are ours because they owe this money to us.\"

The bi-partisan bill now goes to the State Assembly, where Speaker Robin Vos and other members are optimistic a vote will happen in the next few weeks. During negotiations there, lawmakers could change the Senate's plan.

In addition to that, Milwaukee county and city leaders need to sign off on it. Mayor Tom Barrett said he's pleased with the deal, but has some reservations.

\"The concern right now, remaining deals with the Wisconsin Center District Convention Center to shore up the financing for its part of this bill,\" he said. \"It's the weakest link in the deal.\"

The deal that was approved Wednesday also includes a $2 surcharge on all tickets sold to the new arena.

The Wisconsin Center would get 75 percent of that money, which Mayor Barrett said he's very happy about. The other 25 percent goes to the state.

The compromise bill concerns the $55 million in state funds that would be needed to construct the $500 million sports and entertainment facility, with Bucks ownership putting forth $250 million.

The NBA has given the bucks a 2017 deadline to have shovels in the ground for a new arena, otherwise, the league may buy back the team and move it.  

Bucks president Peter Feigin said in a statement, \"we appreciate the bi-partisan leadership in Madison for bringing this transformative partnership one step closer to reality. We're optimistic that this financing package will receive support in the assembly and look forward to working with state, county and city officials.\"

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