HELENA - Hours of House debate Tuesday over state spending cuts needed to eliminate a budget deficit involved millions of dollars, but one item costing $1,000 prompted an unusual response from some lawmakers.
After rejecting a request to restore $1,000 in state funding for travel costs of counselors serving people with vision problems, the Republican majority took up a collection to find the money among their ranks.
Within a couple of hours, $526 had been collected mostly from the GOP side of the aisle, said Rep. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman.
The House later voted unanimously to spend that money on travel for the program.
The matter arose amid a daylong floor debate over proposed budget cuts that topped $5 million.
Rep. Rosie Buzzas, D-Missoula, asked that the program for blind and low-vision citizens be exempt from an across-the-board 25 percent cut in travel budgets.
Although Republicans had steadfastly resisted similar moves to soften reductions in a host of state programs, Buzzas argued that this $1,000 adjustment could be easily accommodated.
"I bet we can find that money, a thousand damn dollars," she said.
But Appropriations Chairman Dave Lewis, R-Helena, said the tiny amount is reason enough not to approve restoring the money.
The Department of Public Health and Human Services should be able to come up with that much money from within its annual budget of $2 billion, he said.
Buzzas' request was rejected, 53-47.
Balyeat suggested the pass-the-hat solution as an alternative to using legislative time to debate a $1,000 issue. He said a donation of $10 from each of the 100 representatives would cover the money requested.
Balyeat said he will try to raise the remainder of the $1,000 from senators.