MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA (AP) The Legislature lurched closer Monday night to finishing budget and tax cut plans, but not without partisan wrangling over a disputed deal some Republicans allegedly worked out with the governor's office. Both sides predicted the Legislature could adjourn Tuesday. Republican House leaders killed a so-called compromise tax cut bill on Monday, saying it unfairly goes after business with enforcement measures aimed at out-of-state corporations and nonresidents. Along the way, tax credits for renters and one for homeowners tied to a growing surplus were lost. But the new tax cut bills, offered by GOP leaders as a new compromise, still have Schweitzer's $400-per-homeowner rebate, more money for schools to lower local property taxes, and a tax cut for business equipment. The measures were overwhelmingly endorsed on the House floor late Monday, and the chamber was scheduled to return Tuesday morning. The House sent a s p e n d i n g plan to the S e n a t e Monday that cuts money sought by the Department of Revenue to e x p a n d enforcement operations. T h e Senate added some of it back in, with Democrats in charge of the committee saying they had worked out a deal with Republican leaders in the House to allow some, but not all, of the new staff sought by the agency. The Senate was scheduled to debate Schweitzer's energy industry tax incentives late Monday night. The budget that cleared the House Monday afternoon on a 56-41 vote spends about $3.2 billion in state tax money and $7.8 billion overall. Even though it was modified in committee by Republicans, only n i n e Republicans voted for it on the floor. The Senate endorsed it on a 29-19 vote. Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, said he voted for it because it is the budget that can be passed. He also noted no one brought forward ideas to cut from the three areas that take up almost all spending: education, social services and corrections. House Speaker Scott Sales, Rbozeman, voted against it, saying the 23 percent increase in state spending over two years is too much. "This bill does not represent the average Montanan," Sales said. And the much-talked about "compromise" hashed out by a dozen or so Republicans and members of Schweitzer's own staff appeared to mean very little. Jones, who was in on the meeting last weekend with the governor's staff, said he's not too worried that the moves being made by his party's leaders seem to run afoul of the arrangement. "I'm OK with the common ground moving around a little bit," Jones said. House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings, also attended the weekend meeting. He said Monday there was no agreement on the disputed "revenue enhancements" in the tax cut package even though they were included in the Schweitzer administration bill Lange was carrying before it was tabled in committee Monday. Sales told Senate President Mike Cooney that Lange does not speak for the caucus on a separate commitment to not adjourn before the Senate, a move that could force the Senate to a c c e p t Republican versions of the tax and spending bills without any negotiation. "(Lange) is a caucus of one," Sales told Cooney. But the prospect of the House making such a move waned as the night wore on. Sales said the he thinks Democrats and Schweitzer are getting a pretty good deal with the two new tax bills, which cleared a committee Monday and were waiting for a floor vote. "The governor, in principal, is getting what he wants ... minus what we think is bad policy for the state of Montana," Sales said. Republicans don't believe that the provisions will produce more revenue, and the business community has lined up against them. "I hope it's a compromise," Rep. Bob Lake of Hamilton said of the two new tax bills. "I think we have just really taken the contentious part out of it." Schweitzer said Republican changes to the budget are "intellectually dishonest" because they take money out of the Department of Corrections that will create a shortfall, forcing lawmakers to add more money in the next budget cycle. Schweitzer compared it to the cheeseburger-eating comic-strip character "Wimpy". "This is Wimpy economics, why pay for the burger today when I can pay for it next Tuesday," Schweitzer said. Senate Minority Leader Corey Stapleton, urging colleagues to wrap up the debate on spending plans said the tough legislative session that is ending with a historic special session will take a toll. "I suspect there are far more losers than winners," Stapleton said. "Let's get out of the special session and move on."