HELENA — Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee tried Thursday to put money back into the state budget, but the Republican majority swatted down most major attempts on party-line votes.

Republicans control the committee by a 13-9 majority and largely upheld the budgets adopted by GOP-controlled subcommittees that reduced Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposed two-year budget.

With the state seeing its revenue dip in fiscal 2016, the GOP majorities in the House and Senate are trying to bring the budget into balance through spending cuts or rolling back proposed spending increases. Bullock has proposed some budget cuts or rollbacks, but he and Democratic lawmakers also are looking at tax increases and funding transfers to balance the budget.

About the only major Democratic gain was a successful move to restore money for the state airplane used by Bullock. And that motion was made by Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, who abandoned efforts by a Republican-controlled subcommittee to not fund the plane and instead provide a lesser amount for him to charter planes, fly commercially or drive around the state more to save money. Tschida’s motion passed 22-0.

Democratic committee members tried to restore money for a number of programs to no avail, including some that had matching federal money or other sources of non-general fund money.

They included attempts to spend $65,000 to match an equal amount of federal money to train volunteer firefighters on dealing with hazardous materials such as spills from railroad cars.

Another failed motion sought to restore about five workplace safety workers to Department of Labor and Industry and would have been matched by a larger federal appropriation in a state that has ranked among the worst nationally in workplace safety.

The GOP majority resisted an attempt to restore money and attract money for the Montana Youth Challenge Academy, a National Guard boot camp program for troubled youths.

At one point, Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, told the committee that some of the motions would have required little money from the state treasury to attract far more in federal or other sources of funds.

“These cuts have done little to help us with our ending fund balance, and a lot of them are very important programs,” McCarthy said. “It’s illogical to cut them.”

In some cases, Tschida and some other Republicans said they would vote to restore some spending if the state budget picture improves.

The committee rejected a move to restore the one attorney’s post in the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices, saying the job was added two years ago to help the office catch up with its caseload, and it has done so.

As for the governor’s airplane, Tschida has been a leading critic of Bullock’s use of the plane. He has sponsored a bill to limit the use of the plane by future governors to official state business and to require a governor to repay the state treasury at the rate of chartering a private plane if a chief executive uses the plane for both official business and campaigning.

Tschida also has questioned the use of Bullock’s airplane within a 100-mile radius of Helena, suggesting it would be cheaper to drive. The Republican legislator said about 50 percent of Bullock’s flights are within that 100-mile radius. Tschida said he would like to study the issue further with some legislators before the next Legislature convenes in two years.

Over the years, it has been common for House members to not fund the governor’s plane or to call for selling it and buying a cheaper one. The Senate has always restored funding for the plane.

In response, Bullock said later, “Governors since 1950 have had access to a state plane. In a state of 147,000 square miles, Montanans expect us to be out and about, so I think it’s a responsible move.”

The Appropriations Committee will resume work on the budget in House Bill 2 on Friday.

Among the remaining budgets up before the panel will be those for the Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Montana University System, which face some major cuts and budget rollbacks that have attracted criticism.

The full House will debate the budget March 16 and 17 and send HB 2 to the Senate.

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