Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald calls for road-funding veto override

MADISON — The Republican leader of the Wisconsin Senate on Thursday called for a veto override after Gov. Tony Evers' administration announced a new $75 million transportation grant program that would make funding available for public transit projects like Milwaukee's streetcar.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called for the veto override shortly after Evers' transportation secretary, Craig Thompson, announced that the new $75 million grant program would make the money available for spending on public transit and other needs beyond just roads and bridges.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he too was "seriously considering" an override vote.

The state budget as passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature included $90 million for local road projects. Evers vetoed it down to $75 million and on Thursday announced it would be available through a new grant program.

Fitzgerald and other Republicans oppose the streetcar. Earlier this week, a group of 10 Republican senators wrote to Thompson saying the money should only be available for roads and bridges.

Instead, under the grant program it can be used for roads, bridges, public transit, bike paths and walking trails, railroads and harbors.

"The governor is taking money from local road construction to fund Milwaukee's trolley to nowhere," Fitzgerald said on Twitter. "Rural Dems should push back — veto override!"

Vos said allowing local road grants to go for projects like the Milwaukee streetcar was "ludicrous."

Republicans don't have enough votes on their own to override a veto unless at least three Democrats would break ranks and join them. At least three Democrats would also have to join with all 63 Republicans in the Assembly to override a veto.

Democrats are highly unlikely to help Republicans override an Evers veto, even if some in rural areas are uneasy about making money available for the Milwaukee streetcar. There hasn't been a veto override in Wisconsin since 1985. Democratic legislative leaders did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Thompson defended the grant program, saying it would allow local communities to prioritize their most important transportation needs and address a wide range of projects.

"We expect that communities will submit the project they believe will have the greatest impact on their economic development and growth," he said.

The state will pick up 90% of the cost, with local governments covering the remaining 10%. The program won support from groups representing Wisconsin's counties, towns, villages and cities. Under the program, towns will be eligible for about $30 million, with counties able to receive about $25 million and cities and villages eligible for around $20 million.

While Fitzgerald voiced opposition, fellow Republican Sen. Howard Marklein praised the governor's plan, saying it "nearly mirrors the Legislature's budget plan for local roads."

"Our local towns will not be paying for Milwaukee's trolley, but if Milwaukee wants to apply for money to expand the trolley for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, they can do so out of their own allocation," Marklein said.

Milwaukee is hosting next year's Democratic National Convention.

"We'll have to watch the city, village and county portions closely to ensure that rural cities, villages and counties do not lose out to their urban counterparts," said Marklein, who lives in Spring Green.