HELENA (AP) - The Montana Legislature adjourned Saturday night, after making last-minute budget adjustments to complete its four-month-long struggle to erase a $230 million deficit.
The final day was marked by approval of a $6.3 billion two-year budget that was balanced with a combination of tax increases, spending cuts and tapping one-time sources of money.
The budget was praised by supporters as a worthy achievement in light of the state's financial woes and condemned by critics as an inadequate plan laced with temporary fixes that will leave the next Legislature in the same budget squeeze once again.
State employees came away from the last hours with a small pay raise, paid for with an across-the-board cut in state agency budgets. Schools saw a change in the way they can spend state money with passage of another bill, prompting sharp disagreement among some lawmakers over whether the change is good for schools and local taxpayers.
The 58th Legislature came to end at 7:15 p.m when the House and Senate adjourned, one day short of the 90-day limit.
Before calling it quits, lawmakers said goodbye to six representatives and 10 senators who will be prevented from running for re-election next year due to term limits.
The budget, which the looming deficit made the focus of the session, was balanced with a $45.6 million surplus, enough to satisfy a Martz administration nervous about what will happen with the economy and state tax collections over the next two years.
The budget combined about $70 million in spending cuts and relied on about $75 million in sales tax increases.
Top Republicans assessed the GOP-controlled session as a success.
''We were faced with a monumental task,'' said House Majority Leader Roy Brown, R-Billings. ''We did the best we could under the circumstances.''
''I'm satisfied,'' added Senate President Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork. ''It takes money to run government and we had a lack of money.''
But Democrats felt left out and said the session lacked vision and missed opportunities.
''I thought we would come together better than we did,'' said Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy. ''I don't think we were ever given due credit or consideration for our ideas.''
House and Senate debates over the budget dominated the last day. It passed the Senate 27-23, and cleared the House 53-47. In each case, Republicans provided almost all the votes in support.
Democrats riddled the spending plan with criticism, saying it leaves programs for some of the most needy Montanans without adequate money.
''I'm disappointed,'' said Sen. Linda Nelson, D-Medicine Lake. ''I'm not a tax and spender ... but we need some good ongoing revenue in the state.''
''I'm not proud of what we did,'' Rep. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, told Republicans. ''We don't deserve applause. I refuse to accept accolades for something I'm ashamed of.''
''Why aren't you willing to admit that you have gone too far when it comes to the lives of the people of this state?'' Rep. Monica Lindeen, D-Huntley, asked GOP members.
But Rep. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, fired back with a question of his own.
''How much is enough?'' he said. ''Just give me a figure. It's never enough. It's never enough. We just keep growing government in Montana bigger and bigger and bigger because we're all such nice folks that we can never say no.''
Other Republicans said the measure was the best that could be done given the state's budget shortfall, without a major increase in taxes.
''Most of us bit our lip or hold our nose and vote for something,'' said Sen. Tom Zook, R-Miles City.