Man oh man, you can almost hear the sphincters snap shut when Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos heard that state budget transportation dollars might be available for the Milwaukee Street Car (aka the Hop).
You know the street car? The one the state legislatively prohibits from extending beyond the city limits. The one that the county can’t contribute to for the same reason? The one that everyone opposed derisively calls the ‘trolley’? Yeah…that one.
Well, despite the fact that the budget that was passed was essentially the one written by the GOP legislators…and signed with some gubernatorial vetoes (we’ll address that in another post)…the fact that someone in the governor’s office mentioned street car and budget transportation money in the same breath caused an uproar. Despite not raising the specter of veto overrides before now…all of a sudden the extra transportation money is getting extra attention.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican from Juneau, called for the attempt to override the veto just after the Democratic governor’s administration outlined how it planned to spend $75 million in transportation funds.
Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson left open the possibility that some of the money could go toward Milwaukee’s streetcar — a project Fitzgerald and other Republicans oppose.
It’s not clear that any of the money would wind up going to the streetcar, known as The Hop. An aide to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett implied the city wouldn’t try to use the money for the streetcar.
But even the possibility of the funds going toward it was enough for Fitzgerald to call for a veto override — an idea he has not said he would pursue before.
“The governor is taking money from local road construction to fund Milwaukee’s trolley to nowhere,” Fitzgerald wrote on Twitter. “Rural Dems should push back — veto override!”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester said he was interested in following that path as well.
“It’s simply ludicrous that the governor would turn his back on Wisconsin drivers everywhere and allow these local road grants to go to projects like the Milwaukee streetcar,” he said in a statement. “We’re seriously considering a veto override.”
Overriding any of Evers’ 78 budget vetoes would require approval from two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses.
For money to go to the streetcar, Milwaukee officials would need to apply for the money for that purpose. A panel being set up by the state Department of Transportation would need to approve it.
But Barrett spokeswoman Jodie Tabak indicated the city would seek the funds for roads, not the streetcar.
“Our plan is to seek our fair share to repair local roads,” she said by email.
I still don’t quite understand the GOP’s animosity to the street car. Yes…so far it goes not much of anywhere but it does cover some of the most densely populated areas of the city, a good portion of the economic district of the city, the intermodal station (Amtrak and buses), and the Milwaukee Market (one of the Third Ward’s most popular destinations). And as I’ve stated before the interstate highways didn’t go much of anywhere initially either. It took decades to realize their potential…and the same with the railroads themselves in the 19th Century.
And I don’t quite get their continued animosity to the City of Milwaukee and by extension Milwaukee County. If they’d just prefer to give us back the sales taxes and income taxes that we send to Madison in their entirety, we wouldn’t need too much help from Madison.
But here we are…the money is extra money for transportation taken from the general funds and not from the transportation budget. The governor’s veto reduced it from $90 million to $75 million. It has to be applied for and the state can turn down the requests. The city has stated it won’t apply for state funds for the street car. So the story should be done! But this plays well out state to those who fear Milwaukee and still think it is a drain on the state…despite being the exact opposite.
GOP lawmakers argued none of the money should go toward the streetcar or transit projects.
“The intent of the Legislature’s budget was to invest in roads and bridges — pure and simple,” 10 Republican senators wrote in a letter to Thompson this week.
So Sen. Fitzgerald and Rep. Vos should just stand down…it’s a tempest in a tea pot of their own design.
But just how much money are we actually talking about?
Of the $75 million, about $29 million will go to towns, about $27 million to counties and about $19 million to cities and villages. emphasis mine
Given that $19 million needs to be split up among the most deserving projects from all of Wisconsin’s cities and villages…it doesn’t even seem worth the effort for Milwaukee to apply.