By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Efforts to find a source of additional money for the state budget stalled on two fronts Tuesday, leaving legislative leadership on both sides frustrated about prospects of a mutually agreeable solution.
The Senate deadlocked over a Republican proposal that would implement selective sales taxes to provide $47 million for the budget and $53 million in income tax relief.
A House committee's tie vote appeared to kill a $77 million Democratic plan for tapping the coal tax trust and raising cigarette taxes.
Key Republicans said they will continue to seek cooperation from the
Democratic minority, but are prepared to push through a budget solution on their own with less than three weeks remaining before expected adjournment of the Legislature.
''We are on our own,'' Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas of Stevensville told fellow GOP senators. ''We are not going to get any help on this. It's going to be this caucus and the House Republicans who get us out of this.''
House Speaker Doug Mood, R-Seeley Lake, shared that assessment.
''We have to assume the solution to our budget problems is going to have to be found unilaterally,'' he said in an interview.
He said he's all but given up on using coal taxes to balance the budget, because it requires a three-fourths vote that seems impossible to get.
''There's no point in fooling around with the coal trust fund any more,'' Mood said. ''We don't need it to increase cigarette taxes to raise revenue.''
House Republicans consider another measure increasing cigarette taxes by $80 million over two years as the alternative, he said.
Top Democrats said they're still willing to seek compromise ideas with Republicans, but are not willing to abandon their principles.
''We will work with the majority on any bill they bring forward and give them the votes that we can,'' said House Minority Leader
Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula.
''We're part of the process and we'll do what we can to fix it,'' added Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy. ''But we won't forego our
philosophy. We'll stick to what we believe in.''
Tuesday's developments left a cloudy picture of where the Legislature will find at least $97 million to match the spending level requested by Gov. Judy Martz in her budget and have an adequate surplus.
Republicans have set that goal, but Democrats want additional money for human services and education.
The Senate Taxation Committee on Tuesday approved a new Democratic option that would provide $179 million through new or increased sales taxes on motel rooms, car rentals and cigarettes. It also puts a new tax on large warehouse-style retail stores like Wal-Mart and changes licensing of older vehicles.
''We look at this as the minimum proposal that we need to get out of here without breaking bones,'' Tester said.
The bill that stalled in the Senate on a 25-25 vote is a revised version of Martz's tax relief plan. It raises about $106 million over two years, uses $53 million to offset revenue lost due to a 5 percent cut in income taxes, and makes $47 million available for human service programs.
Four Republicans joined all 21 Democrats in opposing Senate Bill 407.
Critics said it fails to provide money for education and that will lead to property tax and college tuition increases. They also said the state shouldn't be cutting taxes at a time when it faces a money shortage.
''I don't see any effort at compromise in this bill,'' Sen. Emily Stonington, D-Bozeman, told Republicans. ''It is a bill to solve the problem as you see it.''
GOP members said the bill is a crucial economic development tool because it will end Montana's image as a high-tax state that discourages investment and jobs.
''This bill is good; it's good for the state,'' said Sen. Bob DePratu, R-Whitefish. ''Let's start making things happen.''
The Democratic bill killed in the House Taxation Committee, 9-9, is nearly identical a proposal that came up one vote short of passing the House last week.
Both would take $29 million from the coal tax trust fund and raise cigarette taxes by about $56 million over the next two years. Some money would be used to repay the trust fund, leaving almost $77 million to help the budget.
Rep. Kim Gillan, D-Billings, said enough Democrats might be willing to vote for a Democratic-sponsored bill to get the 75 House votes needed to tap the coal fund.
The bill voted on last week was sponsored by House Majority Leader Roy Brown, R-Billings.
But Republicans said the House doesn't need two identical bills.