HELENA, Mont. - The Montana House has given initial approval to the state budget for the next two years.
Thursday's vote fell along party lines, with 59 Republicans voting for it and 41 Democrats against.
The budget must pass a final vote on Friday before it goes to the Senate for consideration.
Democrats failed in their attempts to add $300 million to the budget through 26 amendments.
The budget the House endorsed Thursday spends $10.2 billion in state and federal funds in 2018 and 2019.
State spending would slightly increase from the current budget, but it is $19 million less than what Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock recommended.
The biggest piece of the state budget isn't going to get any bigger on the Montana House floor.
Republican majority lawmakers shot down amendments big and small offered by Democrats to increase education funding above the GOP budget plan.
They ranged from $32,000 for American Indian language programs to $48 million for the university system, which would be contingent on another bill passing.
Most proposals died along party lines, as did every proposed addition to the budget during the debate.
Those party line votes became so routine that cheers went up on the floor when five GOP lawmakers defected to support a proposal to add $3.7 million for vocational education. The amendment still failed 54-46.
The House Republican budget proposes spending $2.1 billion on education, or more than half of all general fund spending over the next two years.
An amendment to add $3 million to the Montana budget to implement the state's water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes has been rejected.
Democratic Rep. Brad Hamlett of Cascade attempted to add the funding during Thursday's budget debate on the House floor.
Hamlett says the Legislature obligated itself to fulfill the obligations in the agreement over water rights on the Flathead Indian Reservation when it approved the deal in 2015.
Republican Rep. Carl Glimm of Kila says that money was available in the current budget and wasn't spent. He pointed out that Congress still has not ratified the agreement.
The amendment failed on a 59-41 party line vote.
House Republicans won't give a penny more than they had already planned for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
On Thursday, the GOP majority rejected five Democratic amendments that would have added tens of millions of dollars to the department's budget.
Republican lawmakers also nixed Democrats' attempts to fill some of the vacant health department positions the budget plan would keep open to save money.
Democratic lawmakers tried to persuade their Republican colleagues by telling personal stories of the struggles of direct care workers.
They didn't have much luck. Only one Republican, Rep. Adam Rosendale of Billings, voted with the Democrats to restore $42 million in senior and long-term care funding that was cut from Gov. Steve Bullock's budget proposal.
The eight changes that House Democrats attempted to make in the first section of the state budget Thursday were rejected mostly on 59-41 party line votes.
In two cases, a single Republican joined the Democrats in trying to add $674,000 in general fund spending to the section that deals with general government agencies, such as the Department of Administration, Department of Military Affairs and others.
But for the most part, the GOP majority is unified in its opposition as Republicans look to fix a budget shortfall by cutting spending.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nancy Ballance says the 30 proposed changes by Democrats total more than $200 million in spending, which would blow up the budget.
The debate is expected to continue for most of the day.
Democratic lawmakers will try again to add money for programs in education and health and human services when the full Montana House takes up the budget.
The Republican majority will again resist most, if not all, of their efforts on Thursday.
The House will vote on the $10.2 billion state budget for 2018 and 2019 on Thursday or Friday after nearly three months of committees examining state spending and looking for areas to cut.
The House Republican budget spends $27 million less from the state's general fund than Gov. Steve Bullock proposed in his plan. Democrats say vital programs are contained within those reductions.
They are proposing numerous amendments that would add money. Some have been rejected previously, and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nancy Ballance says she expects to send the budget bill to the Senate as is.
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