MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Republicans shot down an attempt to resuscitate the governor’s budget Wednesday night, and started pushing their own budget bills out of a key committee. The vote to bring back the governor’s budget came along party lines, failing 11-8. Democrats vowed to keep working to restore Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s budget. Instead, Republicans advanced their budget plans making good on promises to cut back the governor’s spending requests. Millions were shaved from administration spending requests for agencies covering social programs, economic development, the environment and hunting and fishing. The Republican budgets ultimately aim to increase state spending about 13 percent over the next two years, instead of the requested 22 percent. “We have tried time and again to emphasize we are not making cuts, we are making reductions in the increases,” said Rep. Jack Wells, Rbozeman. Democrats, still seething over the short shrift given Schweitzer’s budget offering, continued to fight the Republican effort to advance their own budget bills. They claim that the GOP plan may be illegal and disrupts 30 years of budget tradition. “I cannot support these bills,” said Rep. William McChesney, D-Miles City. Democrats even voted against a series of failed attempts by some Republicans to put more money back into some agencies, such as the Department of Commerce. They also forced failed votes to try to kill the Republican offerings. The panel worked late into the night on the budget bills. “For the committee it is going to get a lot more difficult unless we are willing to work together,” said Rep. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek. “Those people back home are the ones that are going to suffer.” More cuts to agency requests are on the way based on other Republican budget bills that received hearings Wednesday, and will see committee votes today. A Republican effort to cut about $100 million from the governor’s education plans received a rough reception earlier in the day. The education community lined up in opposition to the plan and no members of the public offered support during a hearing held by the House Appropriations Committee. Linda McCulloch, superintendent of public instruction, said the GOP measure fails to fund the full-time kindergarten bill advancing in the Legislature, Indian Education for All and other important areas. “This is playing politics with my kids,” she said. The budget fight takes place amid projections the state will have a $1 billion surplus. The Republican education budget increases state spending over current levels by about 5 percent a year. Republican Rep. Bill Glaser of Huntley, the sponsor of his party’s legislation, said the bill targets increases to allow for the larger property tax cuts planned by Republicans. “There are little trims here, and little trims there,” Glaser said. Hearings were also given Wednesday to Republican plans to cut requests for the spending in the governor’s office, The judicial branch, the Department of Revenue and other areas in government. That budget bill would, however, increase spending on the legislative branch. The tax agency said it needs the money to pursue out-of-state tax deadbeats, who they said pose the biggest tax collection problem. A small investment of state resources results in a far greater amount in tax collections, they said. Civil liberty advocates complained that planned reductions to requests from the Office of the Public Defender make it hard for the state to meet its constitutional requirements to an increasing number of criminal defendants. The budget bills face an uncertain fate in the full House, a chamber divided by a slim 50- 49-1 margin in favor of the GOP. The Republican budget measures are House Bills 804-809.