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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker supports key parts of Bucks arena deal

PORTAGE, Wis. -- Gov. Scott Walker spoke in favor Thursday of key elements of a reported deal for a new $500 million arena for the Milwaukee Bucks that includes raising taxes on Milwaukee County hotel rooms and rental cars.

Walker's support for central parts of the plan came as conservatives, including the influential group Americans for Prosperity, blasted the latest funding proposal as irresponsible and harmful to taxpayers.

Terms of the deal have yet to be made public. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday that the most recent proposal would include $250 million from taxpayers, with another $150 million coming from Bucks owners and $100 million from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, a previous Bucks owner.

The likely Republican presidential candidate was asked about the report Thursday and indicated support for some of its central elements, including the taxes that could be levied to pay for it. Walker said he doesn't consider the potentially higher taxes in Milwaukee County a tax increase because the Wisconsin Center Board already has the authority to raise them but isn't doing it, he told reporters in Portage.

"We're not going to raise any statewide taxes," Walker said.

The tentative agreement, as reported by the newspaper, includes $55 million in bonds from the state and would allow the Wisconsin Center District to issue $93 million in bonds. That would require the Legislature and Walker to change state law to extend the district's repayment period.

The district levies three taxes in Milwaukee County: 3 percent on car rentals, 2.5 percent on hotel rooms and a half-percent on restaurant food and beverage sales. It operates the Wisconsin Center convention center, Milwaukee Theatre and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

Current law allows the district to increase the rental car tax to 4 percent and the hotel tax to 3 percent. If that is done, Walker argued, it wouldn't be a new tax.

"If that's a tool they think they need to authorize at the local level, that's something we're certainly considering," he said.

But the proposal drew opposition from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch.

"The current deal is based on fuzzy math, complicated accounting and taxpayer dollars," said the group's state director David Fladeboe.

Walker said he hoped a final deal would be announced by the end of the week.

The Legislature's budget-writing committee was scheduled to complete work Friday on the two-year spending plan, including the Bucks deal. But Walker and lawmakers have said that without a final arena agreement in place, the committee may not complete budget work until this weekend or next week.

Walker is scheduled to be in New Hampshire for events Friday night and Saturday.

Walker reiterated Thursday that a deal must be reached because without a new arena by 2017, the NBA has said it would relocate the team and that would result in a loss of tax revenue for the state.

"Whether you like, dislike or are undecided about the Bucks, the bottom line is that would create a significant hole in a future state budget and for the long term," Walker said.