MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Democrats accused Republicans of going behind closed doors to cut the governor’s budget, and Republicans circulated a Schweitzer administration strategy memo they labeled “unfortunate.” Both sides dug in their heels and jockeyed for the high ground Tuesday as hearings continued on a proposed Republican alternative to the budget submitted by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Democrats said they don’t trust Republicans and the new budget process. Republicans said Democrats should move forward positively rather than act as obstructionists. The internal memo tells administration agency heads to oppose the Republican budget bills, and not to offer any amendments to the bills. Schweitzer Budget Director David Ewer said the memo is consistent with the administration’s plans. “It is self evident that we support the governor’s budget,” Ewer said. The governor’s office also released a legal opinion Tuesday they say substantiates their claims that the GOP budget bills may be illegal. It states the measures have numerous changes to law in addition to appropriations, raising problems with the state’s “single subject” requirement for bills. Rep. John Sinrud, chairman of the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee that previously tabled the governor’s budget, said it is wrong for the administration to refuse to work with the GOP bills he largely crafted. “If Director Ewer does not want you guys to participate, and the people in the audience not to participate, that is unfortunate,” the Bozeman Republican told Democrats on his committee and administration staff. “If the minority members of this committee do not want to move forward in positive action, that is your choice.” Democrat Tim Callahan, D-Great Falls, sparred with Sinrud over the new Republican budget bills, asking how they arrive at completely different numbers than those a subcommittee had been working on before the governor’s budget was killed. After Sinrud said he came up with the numbers in an effort to reduce government spending, Callahan alleged the cuts “behind closed doors” undermine the legislative tradition of public participation. “The (governor’s budget) was kicked to the curb because you have your own agenda you want to push forward,” Callahan told Sinrud. “I reject this option. It is not the way it should be done.” Sinrud said Democrats should stop complaining about the process, and work with the new budget bills to seek spending changes they would like. “This is the foundation, this is the starting point,” Sinrud responded. Sinrud pointed to the Ewer memo as evidence the administration has its own secrets. He called it a “unilateral, dictatorial e-mail.” “That was done in secret, that was the direction to all his staff,” he said. Ewer’s memo has talking points for the governor’s cabinet and agency heads. Rep. Even Franklin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said there is nothing sinister behind the memo. “It’s the prerogative of any chief executive to advise their employees,” she said. It includes guidance that says the Administration supports the original funding bill, House Bill 2, is working with lawmakers to bring it back and opposes the GOP alternatives. It tells them not to draft any amendments for the GOP budget bills, and to clear all public comments on the bills through the governor’s communications staff. “We expect that House Bill 2 will be the basis of the ... state budget, as it has been for three decades,” Ewer wrote. Ewer said in an interview that he believes there may be an effort at some point to bring the governor’s budget straight to the House floor. House Minority Leader John Parker, D-Great Falls, told Democrats they are focused on getting “some answers for the public.” “The burden is not upon us to endorse a flawed process,” he said in an afternoon meeting.