GOP see letter as sign of Democrats' attitude
HELENA - A former legislator has urged fellow Democrats to give the Republican majority no help in solving the state's budget deficit, and GOP leaders believe that's a reflection of the partisan disagreement over where to find additional money.
An e-mail sent to Democratic lawmakers last week from Tom Towe, a former Democratic senator from Billings, encouraged Democrats to resist GOP pressure to take money from the coal tax trust fund. It also offered political advice on cooperating with Republicans.
''Finally, I genuinely believe it does Democrats no good to help Republicans out of their budget dilemma,'' wrote Towe, a key architect of the coal tax trust fund in the 1970s.
''If they can get you to participate with them in the final solution, it only gives them an opportunity to go home and ask the people to blame the Democrats too, because they participated in the final solution,'' he said.
That attitude could explain why more House Democrats did not support a bill last week that would have taken money from the coal trust and raised the cigarette tax, House Speaker Doug Mood, R-Seeley Lake, said Tuesday.
''It gives us some reason not to expect cooperation from the Democrats,'' he said of Towe's letter.
''It confirmed what their basic game plan is out there,'' said Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville. ''Their game plan is not to work with us this session.''
He speculated that Democrats want to force deep cuts in the budget so they can blame the Republicans in control of both houses.
Top Democrats said there's no such plot against Republicans.
''We're still committed to working with those folks,'' said House Minority Leader Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula.
Just because some Democrats in the House were willing to support the coal tax-cigarette tax bill doesn't mean all Democrats would vote for it last week, he said.
''Each side had the opportunity to put (House Bill) 750 over the top and failed to do it,'' Wanzenried said. ''I'm not going to apologize for the votes in my caucus.''
Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, said his party has offered solutions for putting more money into the budget that defy the notion Democrats are trying not to get along or want to sabotage the budget.
In reality, he added, the GOP doesn't need the Democrats and can use their majority muscle to do what they want.
''They have done what they want to anyway,'' Tester said. ''That is the advantage of being in the majority. Everything we do, we need help. They can do anything they want without our help.''