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Long day at Montana Senate to approve GOP budget

 


Long day at Montana Senate to approve GOP budget

MATT GOURAS, Associated Press

HELENA — The Senate was working late Monday tinkering with the state budget as Republicans agreed to put some money back in for electronic medical records as sought by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, although the vast majority of the proposals to restore the governor's plan were rebuffed by the GOP majority.

Republicans running the Senate agreed early Monday that the state should indeed take about $35 million in federal money to help hospitals and local clinics transition to electronic medical records. House Republicans had spurned the money in their version of the budget, arguing it could result in invasions of privacy, since the electronic records could be seen by so many providers.

But supporters say the change will speed up transfers of patients and reduce the chance for making mistakes. A Republican proposing reinstatement of the money argued it is especially critical to rural areas that often transfer patients to hospitals in larger towns and cities.

Floor debate on the budget was expected to stretch into late into the evening.

Senate Republicans were largely sticking with House plans to spurn federal money in many other areas such as food stamps, help for the disabled, family planning and other areas. The Senate actions reduced the total rejected for social services to less than $100 million.

"This is crazy, not to accept federal funds," said Sen. Gene Vuckovich, D-Anaconda. "We are not saving anything on the federal budget, it will go to another state. But we are cutting people in our state. That is idiotic."

Republicans, in some cases, have argued that the federal money often comes with strings attached and that they don't want to create future expectations for the state. In other cases, like the spurned money for family planning, Republicans say tax money should not be going to groups like Planned Parenthood.

Overall, the Republican spending plan cuts spending of state tax money about 6 percent. It cuts more than $100 million from the governor's proposed spending of the state tax money — known as general fund money — that lawmakers are usually most concerned with. The governor has made clear his displeasure with the proposal, and even hinted that he may veto it.

Sen. Dave Wanzenried, a Missoula Democrat who is running for governor in 2012, said the Republican budget offering cuts services for the "frail, vulnerable and weak among us."

Democrats were putting more than 100 amendments together for discussion Monday, trying to restore millions into the budget. One would have fully restored the voter-approved Healthy Montana Kids program — an expanded Medicaid program that helps low-to-moderate income families get health insurance for their children.

"Do you want children to have health care, or do you not?" asked Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena. "This is a program for families who cannot afford to provide their children health care."

That amendment, and many others like it, failed mostly along party lines.

"We just can't keep spending more money," said Sen. Dave Lewis, a Helena Republican who has been a leading budget drafter for the GOP.

Republican leaders urged members of their caucus to stick with the plan.

"It is time to stay on the path of being prudent, and that is all we are trying to do on this budget," said Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, of Billings.

HELENA — The Senate was working late Monday tinkering with the state budget as Republicans agreed to put some money back in for electronic medical records as sought by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, although the vast majority of the proposals to restore the governor's plan were rebuffed by the GOP majority.

Republicans running the Senate agreed early Monday that the state should indeed take about $35 million in federal money to help hospitals and local clinics transition to electronic medical records. House Republicans had spurned the money in their version of the budget, arguing it could result in invasions of privacy, since the electronic records could be seen by so many providers.

But supporters say the change will speed up transfers of patients and reduce the chance for making mistakes. A Republican proposing reinstatement of the money argued it is especially critical to rural areas that often transfer patients to hospitals in larger towns and cities.

Floor debate on the budget was expected to stretch into late into the evening.

Senate Republicans were largely sticking with House plans to spurn federal money in many other areas such as food stamps, help for the disabled, family planning and other areas. The Senate actions reduced the total rejected for social services to less than $100 million.

"This is crazy, not to accept federal funds," said Sen. Gene Vuckovich, D-Anaconda. "We are not saving anything on the federal budget, it will go to another state. But we are cutting people in our state. That is idiotic."

Republicans, in some cases, have argued that the federal money often comes with strings attached and that they don't want to create future expectations for the state. In other cases, like the spurned money for family planning, Republicans say tax money should not be going to groups like Planned Parenthood.

Overall, the Republican spending plan cuts spending of state tax money about 6 percent. It cuts more than $100 million from the governor's proposed spending of the state tax money — known as general fund money — that lawmakers are usually most concerned with. The governor has made clear his displeasure with the proposal, and even hinted that he may veto it.

Sen. Dave Wanzenried, a Missoula Democrat who is running for governor in 2012, said the Republican budget offering cuts services for the "frail, vulnerable and weak among us."

Democrats were putting more than 100 amendments together for discussion Monday, trying to restore millions into the budget. One would have fully restored the voter-approved Healthy Montana Kids program — an expanded Medicaid program that helps low-to-moderate income families get health insurance for their children.

"Do you want children to have health care, or do you not?" asked Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena. "This is a program for families who cannot afford to provide their children health care."

That amendment, and many others like it, failed mostly along party lines.

"We just can't keep spending more money," said Sen. Dave Lewis, a Helena Republican who has been a leading budget drafter for the GOP.

Republican leaders urged members of their caucus to stick with the plan.

"It is time to stay on the path of being prudent, and that is all we are trying to do on this budget," said Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, of Billings.

 

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