HELENA — Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer hinted he still has plenty more vetoes to go for bills headed to his desk from the now-adjourned Legislature, with Republican leaders countering Friday that the measures they pushed through are part of a plan to help create jobs in Montana.
GOP majorities finalized an agenda that is topped by a 6 percent cut in spending, a cut in the business equipment tax, strict medical marijuana regulation, a big reduction in workers' compensation rates, an easing of environmental regulation that aims to spur natural resource development and clear eminent domain authority for utilities building big power lines leading out of state.
Schweitzer said his original proposals on those matters and others were better, such as his idea to get rid of the business tax entirely for most businesses while making the largest firms continue to pay it. And he sparred with the lawmakers over other "frivolous, feel good and unconstitutional" bills.
Schweitzer, who has vetoed dozens of bills and did so with a flourish by taking a hot iron brand reading "VETO" to many GOP bills, hinted there could be more to come.
"It's going to be busy around here," he said. "There are still a number of bills that are unconstitutional and I think they will be vetoed."
GOP leaders said in a news conference Friday that bills passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature would help develop natural resources, increase educational opportunity and create a better businesses environment in the state.
They also said their bills wouldn't increase taxes and would keep the government out of Montanans lives.
"We feel like we accomplished what we came here to do," Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo. "I think we set Montana on a new course."
Democratic leaders in their news conference criticized the GOP majority for the negative tone that pervaded the session, and for killing bills that would have increased pay for state employees and borrowed money for construction projects.
"The tone and the content and the outcome of this legislative session was, I think beneath what Montanans deserve and respect," said Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula.
But Schweitzer said Montanans can be confident they have a balanced budget that meets the basic needs.
He applauded the budget deal for restoring federal funds first cut by the GOP that go toward programs aimed at the needy. And he said a negotiation with the Republican leaders to halve the GOP's planned $30 million cut for higher education may be enough to prevent tuition increases.
Schweitzer also said the budget deal ensures the voter-approved Healthy Montana, Healthy Kids health insurance program is restored, along with prescription help for seniors and tobacco cessation assistance.
"The money part of the session is pretty good," Schweitzer said. "I would have liked to see a little bit more money in a few places."