HELENA — The Republican budget plan continued its relatively easy advance through the full House with just the smallest of changes on Saturday, a day when Republicans and Democrats were able to agree on aspects of the budget.
Overall, Republicans are proposing a plan that reduces spending of state tax money overall by about 5 percent. On Saturday, the House moved the corrections, justice and natural resource agency portions of the budget with just minor tweaks.
Republicans stick to game plan
The GOP has a 68-32 advantage in the House, and the chamber is largely sticking to leadership's game plan.
In a big change from a day earlier where there were tense arguments over steep social service cuts, Democrats and Republicans had little to argue about. Monday, the education budget comes up and partisan differences are likely to resurface.
Cuts for natural resources agencies
The GOP-crafted budget plan keeps spending about the same on public safety agencies. It does cut state tax money going to the natural resource agencies by 15 percent — but those agencies get most of their funding from fees paid by users so the cuts have little impact.
That area of the budget covers agencies like the Department of Fish Wildlife and Park that runs hunting and wildlife programs the Department of Natural Resources that manages state land such as by leasing grazing land or logging and the Department of Environmental Quality that runs cleanup and permitting operations.
Most money comes from fees
Most of the money in those agencies does not come from general tax dollars since the agencies often charge fees for their services, or in the case of the DNRC raises millions of dollars for state coffers. The budget area also gets plenty of federal money.
So overall state general tax money saved was just about $11 million to $60 million of that type of funding for the budget area — a drop in the bucket for a state GOP budget plan that would spend $3.7 billion in state tax money.
One Democratic move to restore aspects of the corrections budget was successful. A very small amount of money, about $50,000, was added back in on the House floor with 67 Democrats and Republicans voting for a proposal to restore a service for victims of sex crimes. It was opposed by 33 Republicans.
The money is used to notify the victims when their attacker is released from the prison system.
"It will let those families or victims know exactly where that person who committed this crime against them is," said Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula. "Nothing could be more terrifying than knowing you could run into the person in the store or they might end up on your doorstep with some sort of retaliation in mind."
Cell phone cuts win OK
At the same time, Democrats joined a Republican effort to cut a just a few thousand dollars from cell phone budgets for a state agency.
Under the plan overwhelmingly endorsed on 97-3 and 85-13 votes, public safety spending for the next two-year budget plan remains at about half a billion dollars. Republicans who have trimmed state spending elsewhere — most of it in the social service programs — were unable to cut much from a corrections budget that has always proven difficult to chop.