MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA (AP) Gov. Brian Schweitzer called lawmakers back to Helena for a special session beginning Thursday, believing “positive conversations” will help break an impasse over taxes and spending. Lawmakers adjourned their 90-day regular session on April 27 without drafting a budget the first time anyone can recall the Legislature failing in its primary responsibility. Acrimonious negotiations broke down amid a mood of mistrust on both sides. Schweitzer said he is calling a special session to deal with seven subjects, and believes leaders who met to talk Monday are making progress. “I am encouraged by the positive conversations among the legislators and pleased with the leadership and initiative to get work done on budget, education, energy and tax issues,” the governor said in a statement. Schweitzer called lawmakers to adopt a state spending plan for the next two years, set funding for education, enact tax reductions and rebates and pass property tax incentives for “clean and green” energy projects and any appropriations needed to pay for the special session. The governor will be unveiling proposed bills to address each of the areas. Schweitzer said his tax cut proposal will be a “hybrid” of ideas from both sides of the aisle. The governor said he is confident it will receive support from some Republicans, and characterized it as a solution for the political middle. “This is a bus that will travel down the middle of Montana and not on the edges,” Schweitzer said. “There will be extremes on both sides that don’t Like it.” Leading lawmakers met earlier Monday in Billings, before the governor’s call for a special session. Although they came to no concrete policy agreements, Schweitzer said he was encouraged that both sides wanted a special session to start soon and both agreed it should last less than a week. Schweitzer said he thinks they can finish the work in less than three days. Leaders from both sides of the aisle meeting in Billings Monday focused on housekeeping issues but also pledged to work toward compromise. No new offers were put on the table to break through a deadlock left when the Legislature completed its regular session without approving a budget even though the state is flush with a projected $1 billion surplus. Republican leadership has been pushing for a cut to property tax rates to go along with Schweitzer’s proposed $400-perhomeowner rebate. Both sides have largely agreed to cuts in the business equipment tax, tax credits for renters and a repeal of the so-called water tax. It was not clear Monday afternoon which of these ideas will be in Schweitzer’s proposed tax bill for the special session. Schweitzer said the level of tax cuts will be “historic.” Senate President Mike Cooney, D-Helena, said lawmakers are also looking at changes to rules to let them quickly move legislation. “We’ll have to move things a little bit quicker, getting the rules and those issues resolved, but frankly the meeting we had here (Billings) showed a good deal of interest to hold it sooner than later,” Cooney said. “We’ve got a lot to do between now and Thursday, but I don’t think there’s going to be anything terribly problematic. Today’s meeting was very timely and we discussed those things and can move forward.” Earlier Monday, Republicans again pointed out they are interested in permanent tax relief above all else. “We have one issue: the billion- dollar tax surplus that belongs to the people of Montana,” said House Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman. Both sides pledged to be more up front in their dealings with one another during the upcoming session, to remove any element of surprise that could undermine the process.