Milwaukee Senate Democrats have a message for their Republican counterparts: If you want the votes for the Milwaukee Bucks arena project, open up the discussions.
Sens. Nikiya Harris Dodd, Chris Larson and Lena Taylor — all Democrats from Milwaukee — sent a letter last Thursday to Sens. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, asking for a meeting to discuss a proposal to publicly fund part of a new Bucks arena.
Larson said on Friday that the Republican leaders had responded and a meeting was being set up.
Republican leaders held closed-door meetings last week trying to break an impasse on the Bucks deal and the state’s transportation budget.
Republican leaders are still finalizing a draft of the arena proposal to be released to legislators and the public, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said last Wednesday, adding that he thinks a majority in his caucus supports the proposal “to some extent.”
“I don’t expect to ask anybody for a vote until they have a document they can see,” he said.
Democrats last week have been critical of the intra-party gridlock and the private meetings taking place to solve it, noting that their party hasn’t been at the table for contentious issues like the Bucks proposal. Some Republican lawmakers have called for the proposal to be taken out of the budget and debated separately.
Harris Dodd, Larson and Taylor wrote in their letter that they understand the value of the Bucks project and keeping the team in Milwaukee.
The senators formally requested to be “updated on the current status of the proposed financing plan and be included in all future negotiations.”
“You should not expect us to vote on a plan that we have not had a hand in crafting. If you are counting on our votes, then we need to have a seat at the table,” the senators wrote. “So far, our requests to be included have been ignored and we have not seen any details of the actual proposal. If the pattern of not responding to phone calls or requests to meet continues, it sends a clear signal to us that you are more interested in politics than solutions.”
A spokesman for Fitzgerald did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Democrats’ letter or to confirm that a meeting is being set up.
Darling said earlier that Democrats would have to provide votes to pass the Bucks proposal, likely as stand-alone legislation or an amendment to the budget. Attached to the budget, it would fail as a result of Democrats’ lack of support for the document in its entirety.
“The arena should be a bipartisan bill,” she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “If (Democrats) won’t support it, it’s going to not happen.”
But at the same time, Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said he thinks the Assembly Republicans have the votes to pass the proposal.
Larson said Friday if Republicans pull the proposal out of the budget, that means the proposal is already dead and “they’re just looking for somebody to blame” for its demise.
He said the only details of the deal Democrats have been given have been what’s reported in media coverage.
The Joint Finance Committee, which had hoped to finish its work before Memorial Day, hasn’t met since May 29. ￼