MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA (AP) Lawmakers arriving here for the start of the special session Thursday hope they can hold together a compromise brokered by the governor’s office a deal that is straining the Republican caucus. The House GOP appears split between those talking to Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s office about the deal, conservatives close to House Speaker Scott Sales and the rest who are trying to make up their minds about it. Sales, a Bozeman Republican, said one of his first orders of business will be to ask those who cut the deal, done without his involvement, to explain it to the rest of the Republicans. “I’d like this group of 11 or 12 to explain this to the caucus. I’d like them to flesh out the details, so we know what we are getting.” Sales said he will not use his position to obstruct the process but neither will he help. “If they lost the resolve for what we’re trying to do ... that’s their prerogative,” Sales said. “I’m not going to browbeat anybody.” That could mean 60 votes out of the 100 House members will be needed to move bills along at some point, including the budget, tax cuts, school funding and the energy policy sought by Schweitzer and some Republicans. There are 50 Republicans in the chamber, 49 Democrats and one Constitution Party member. Sales and some other key Republicans want much more permanent property tax relief, although the exact amount worked out in the deal over the weekend was still unclear Wednesday. The governor’s office released an outline while legislative staffers were scrambling to compile the proposed budget and evaluate the true cost of proposed tax cuts. Sales’ office was a hub of activity Wednesday, as Republicans from both sides of the proposed compromise were seen going in an out. But the number of people who will vote for the compromise could be growing. Rep. Bill Jones, R-Bigfork, said he was convinced by House Majority Leader Michael Lange of Billings and veteran Republican Rep. Bill Glaser of Huntley that it is a good deal. Jones said Lange got a bad rap following his profanitylaced blowup at the governor that ended up on YouTube. Jones said Lange is a “good man.” “I trust him,” Jones said of his decision to go along with the compromise. Jones said other House leaders, notably Sales and Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. John Sinrud, Rbozeman, need to realize they can only do so much. “It’s unrealistic to expect (Democrats) to do everything we want,” Jones said of tax cuts. Jones said he feels the deal they are getting is pretty solid. But the apparent split in the Republican caucus over the issue could cause some problems. “I think our leadership has some healing to do,” Jones said. Sinrud said Schweitzer was wrong to call the special session just three days after announcing a deal had been cut behind closed doors. “The people of Montana haven’t even seen the (budget) bill,” he said. Glaser said a successful and smooth special session could depend on Sales and Sinrud. “If they decide to be problem children then it could be more difficult,” Glaser said. Glaser said the compromise allows for a little more in property tax cuts, a little more for schools, and less in some areas than originally sought by Democrats in charge of the Senate. “I think there’s a balance between consideration of tax relief and the taxpayers and the consideration of kids and the priorities of the governor,” Glaser said. Sinrud also left on the outside of the weekend meetings where the compromise originated said he is not worried about a rift in the Republican party. Sinrud said they “all have the ability to forgive and forget.” But Sinrud said Republicans who go along with the deal are basically giving Schweitzer everything he wants. Instead, Republicans should push for more tax cuts a sum Sales described as “paltry” in the face of a $1 billion surplus. “If we stick to our guns, and stick to our goals, that’s what I’d like to see,” Sinrud said. Glaser said the three-day special session, coming on the heels of a historic regular session that for the first time ended without a budget, “could come out quite well for the people of Montana by Saturday, or it could be a disaster.” “It’s a little dicey,” he said. He predicted the House “will have some testy moments in the next few days.” “It’s not a walk in the park,” Glaser said.