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The HOP MKE

The Milwaukee streetcar, also known as the "Hop," is at the heart of a potential dispute involving transportation funding.

The top Senate Republican called Thursday for overriding Gov. Tony Evers’ partial veto of road funding after the Department of Transportation said the money could fund transit projects such as Milwaukee’s streetcar.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a budget that included $90 million in grants to improve local roads. Evers vetoed the amount down to $75 million in order to fund some other priorities, namely education.

Department of Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson announced Thursday that the majority of the $75 million will go toward local roads, but said other types of transportation projects, such as Milwaukee’s streetcar, could also be funded.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in response called for an attempt to override Evers’ veto. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he too was “seriously considering” an override vote.

Overriding a budget veto requires approval from two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses. Republicans don’t have enough votes on their own to override a veto.

“The governor is taking money from local road construction to fund Milwaukee’s trolley to nowhere,” Fitzgerald wrote on Twitter.

About a quarter, or $19 million, of the $75 million is earmarked for cities and villages. Another $29 million is allocated to town projects and the remaining $27 million to counties. Those are the same proportions as the Legislature intended, Thompson said.

“I know some really want to spin the narrative that this money is only going to Madison and Milwaukee,” Thompson told reporters Thursday. “The money is going out across the entire state.”

Thompson’s nomination to serve as DOT secretary has not been approved by the Senate. His nomination is one of the most precarious because Republicans have criticized his previous job leading an advocacy organization that represents road builders, saying it conflicts with his new job in doling out transportation contracts.

A committee will award project funding based on criteria that has yet to be developed, Thompson said. The criteria, which he promised to release, will weigh each project’s economic development by looking at how employment, major employers, freight and connectivity to jobs would be affected.

Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, was one of 10 GOP senators who sent a letter to Thompson Wednesday spelling out that the money should be spent strictly on local roads.

Marklein, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee, said Thursday that he is happy Evers and Thompson did not alter the percentage of money allocated to towns, counties and municipalities.

“As long as it doesn’t come out of my towns and counties’ bucket, I guess I’m OK” with cities funding other types of transportation projects, he said in an interview.

Marklein said he will be watching DOT’s development of the criteria closely to make sure his poorest counties and townships can compete for the money on the same level as more affluent areas.

DOT employees and representatives from the Wisconsin County Highway Association, League of Wisconsin Municipalities and Wisconsin Towns Association will serve on the DOT committee.

Those three groups were on hand for the Thursday news conference and leaders said the 2019-21 budget is the first step in addressing a longstanding debate on how to sustainably fund road improvements.

For example, town roads should be seal-coated every five to seven years, but the state’s average seal coat is applied every 31 years, according to Wisconsin Towns Association executive director Mike Koles.

City of Madison transportation director Tom Lynch said the city is waiting to hear DOT’s criteria before determining what projects to submit to the committee.

The money awarded will be a 90-10 split, meaning the state will fund 90% of a project’s cost and local government chips in 10%.

DOT expects to start receiving project applications in six to eight weeks, Thompson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.