HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer lambasted Republicans running the Legislature Monday for approving money to get new laptop computers for lawmakers, arguing the move is hypocritical since they ran campaigns opposing government spending.
I don’t think when they were running for office they said, ‘furthermore the first thing I will do is vote to give myself a new computer,'” Schweitzer said. “I guarantee none of them had that in their platform. I will bet all of the money in my pocket right now.”
The governor said he has stopped computer purchases in the executive branch a few months ago to save money except in rare cases — and lawmakers should do the same.
Since 2007, legislators have been given a stipend of up to $1,500 to buy a laptop computer for their own use. This year the stipend is capped at $1,000, and was approved in a committee on Monday as part of the “feed bill” that pays for operation of the Legislature. That bill is traditionally one of the first acts of the Legislature.
House Majority Leader Tom McGillvray said lawmakers shouldn’t be required to use their personal laptops to conduct state business.
He said Schweitzer’s comparison to the ban on new executive branch computers is flawed because none of those state employees are required to use their own personal computer. And neither should lawmakers, McGillvray said.
“He doesn’t ask his own staff to bring their computers from home,” McGillvray said.
McGillvray said he doesn’t take the allowance because he can afford to buy a laptop. But he thinks other lawmakers who need the stipend should be allowed to take it.
Schweitzer said the conservative Republicans swept into big majorities in the Legislature, largely fueled by strong tea party anti-government spending rhetoric, need to back up their campaign platforms.
“On one hand they come to town and they want to cut the size of government — does that mean all of government except themselves?” Schweitzer said. “I think if you are running for public office you probably have a personal laptop and that should be good enough.”
And Schweitzer said lawmakers buying computers can easily get very good ones for just a few hundred dollars these days. instead of $1,000.
The governor said he won’t comment on whether he would sign the feed bill if it comes to his desk with the computer money in it. He said by raising the issue, he hopes lawmakers agree to take it out.
The feed bill for more than $8 million was approved unanimously in the House Appropriations Committee, which is dominated by Republicans. It sets aside $120,000 for the legislative computer stipend.
But some Democrats said they will be opposing the bill as it goes through the process.
State Sen. Kendall Van Dyk of Billings said tea party-backed Republicans who have trashed government spending need to live by their own rhetoric. He pointed out lawmakers get to keep the laptops even if they lose their next election.
“Before they do any legislative action up here they sign up for a free computer and free health care all on the taxpayer dime,” he said. “Given the economic times where you are talking about a Republican majority that is looking at cutting $360 million, maybe they should back away from the government trough before they start making cuts to education.”
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