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Questions surround prospect of special legislative sessionPosted on April 30

Questions surround prospect of special legislative sessionPosted on April 30

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HELENA - If Gov. Brian Schweitzer calls lawmakers back into a special session - perhaps a decision coming as early as this week - it is unclear how they'll be able to reach an agreement that eluded them for 90 days.

Most importantly, lawmakers need to draft a budget before government shuts down July 1 with no spending plan for the next two years. Both Democrats and Republicans want tax reductions.

It is those tax reductions that proved to be the biggest sticking point in reaching any deal.

Democrat Schweitzer said he had not decided when he would call a special session, or if he would sign a bill that would extend lawmakers' pay for participating in one.

"I don't think the people of Montana think you ought pay someone twice to do one job," Schweitzer said.

Estimates put a price tag of close to $1 million on a session lasting a month, which would be an extraordinarily long span. The governor has the authority to call lawmakers back in, or they can vote to bring themselves back.

It was expected the governor would make the call after he reviews his options for setting the scope of the session.

In the interim, expect some heavy politicking as each political party blames the other for the regular session's failure to end with a budget with which to fund state government.

Lawmakers got started early Friday, by taking shots at each other before even before leaving the Capitol - having used up all 90 days the constitution grants them.

"We all get hurt from this kind of deadlock," said Senate Majority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula. "But there are no issues they can best us on."

Schweitzer said House Republicans should have to go home and explain to their constituents why they voted against his tax reductions.

"I have proposed to give it back, I have proposed to give more money back to the taxpayers than another other governor in the history of the state, and in 90 days they couldn't get it done," Schweitzer said.

Republicans bristled at the notion that they were responsible for failing to pass a budget during the session or didn't support tax reductions. They blamed Democrats for refusing to compromise on their major priority: a permanent reduction in property tax rates.

"The Senate (controlled by Democrats) did what Democrats do best: spend more money," said House Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman.

Sales said Schweitzer has failed to recognize that Republicans control the House - and he needs to do so before calling them back for a special session.

At the same time, Sales left the door open to talking to the governor.

Schweitzer said negotiating with Republicans has been difficult because he gets mixed messages about who speaks for the party.

"I don't know who is in charge," Schweitzer said. "This is as strange as I've ever seen."

Members of both parties agreed that taking time off will likely help bring a compromise.

"We gotta get away, we gotta step back," said Senate President Mike Cooney, D-Helena, adding that some lawmakers had clearly "come to the end of their rope."

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