Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation Wednesday that commits hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to a new arena for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, a move that could complicate the Republican presidential candidate’s efforts to paint himself as the most ardent small-government conservative in a crowded field.

Walker and state GOP leaders pushed the arena plan for months, especially as the team’s owners threatened to move the Bucks to a new market. The deal requires the team’s current and former owners to cover half of the arena’s $500 million projected cost, while taxpayers will cover the rest — with interest, the public cost could rise to as much as $400 million. But at the signing ceremony Wednesday, Walker repeated claims that the arena would return $3 for every $1 invested into the project.

“We think this is a good, solid move, as good stewards of the taxpayer’s money,” Walker said. “I think anybody investing in the world of small business would say that’s a good return on investment.”

Walker’s signature should be enough to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. But even as he argued that would save the state revenue in the long run, Walker’s plan drew pointed criticism from some of his typical political allies.

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