Montana House Rejects Senate Budget

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The House on Thursday rejected the Senate version of the main state budget, a vote that joined Democrats and Republicans in the chamber for very different reasons.

The House rejected the Senate spending plan, House Bill 2, on a 98-2 vote. The chamber is expected to do the same with the Senate’s ideas for spending federal stimulus money, setting up negotiations over the next week on both issues.

Democrats think the Senate budget plan, largely written by the Republicans who control that chamber, cuts too much from the House version. A real sticking point is a reduction to the voter-approved expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Leading Republicans in the House, however, think the Senate version spends too much.

The House Republican floor leader, Scott Mendenhall of Clancy, even decided to take issue with a specific spending provisions Republicans in the Senate put into their spending plans.

“I don’t think as Republicans we believe in pork-laden earmarks,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall later said in an interview he was talking about $600,000 being given to Swank Enterprises of Kalispell to pay for their share of environmental cleanup costs on a piece of land the company owns.

The money was secured with the backing of Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, above the objections of minority Democrats in the Senate. Barkus has argued that Swank is being unfairly charged for pollution it did not create.

House Democrats, on the other hand, are making a big issue with Senate Republican cuts to general government and the Initiative 155 expansion of CHIP. House Democrats advanced their version of the budget with about a dozen Republicans.

“You all know, and with all of your help and all of your cooperation, the House made a great effort to use good fiscal stewardship to make sure we were living within our means,” said Rep. Jon Sesso, the Butte Democrat who runs the House Appropriations Committee. “We were proud of the product we sent out of here. It was a product sent out of here based on collaboration.”

Earlier Thursday, leading Democrats held a rally with supporters of CHIP expansion, urging them to raise public pressure on Republicans not to tinker with the I-155 language voters overwhelmingly approved in November.

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