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Lange apologizes to governor; no budget deal in sight

House Majority Leader Michael Lange apologized to Gov. Brian Schweitzer Thursday for a profanity-laced attack from a day earlier _ but any deal to end the legislative session remained in limbo.
/ Source: The Associated Press

House Majority Leader Michael Lange apologized to Gov. Brian Schweitzer Thursday for a profanity-laced attack from a day earlier _ but any deal to end the legislative session remained in limbo.

Time was running out for a Legislature facing a special session if it can't finish its work by the last legislative day, which starts Friday morning. Both chambers adjourned late Thursday with little hope of a deal being reached.

"Nobody is going to win if we go into special session _ nobody will, neither side," said House Minority Whip Bob Bergren, D-Havre, as he pleaded with Republican leaders to bring budget bills to the floor.

Lawmakers exchanging warmed over versions of the same tax cut policies they have discussed for weeks. Neither side budged _ and both blamed the other for not seriously negotiating.

Republicans called a late Democratic proposal "a joke." Democrats said Republicans need to make a counteroffer _ and specify where they will cut the budget to make room for more tax relief.

"We're waiting for a counteroffer," said House Minority leader John Parker, D-Great Falls. "We need to trade offers to move this session forward."

Thursday did see an apology from Lange that appeared to put to rest a high-profile tirade against Schweitzer that derailed negotiations for a full day Wednesday.

In a meeting Thursday morning between the two, Lange told the governor, "I lost my temper ... I apologize" for his outburst in which he called Schweitzer an "S.O.B." and aimed other expletives at him.

"Don't worry about it. Look, we've got bigger things to worry about," said Schweitzer, according to a recording of the meeting from Montana Public Radio.

Lange told the governor it was not in his nature "to do that to anybody."

"But when I lose my temper and get frustrated, I do that," the Billings Republican said.

Lange also appeared, in his meeting with Schweitzer, to agreed to ways to perhaps bring the Legislature to an end. But soon after, House Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, held a news conference and said there will be no movement until the governor signs the Republican tax cut plan.

Schweitzer said he was left uncertain who he should be negotiating with after getting conflicting messages from Lange and Sales.

Sales said he does not trust the governor because the administration had spent the morning seeking allies among rank-and-file Republicans. Sales characterized it as trying to "punch a hole" in the Republican caucus.

"To me that is not negotiating in good faith," Sales said.

Democrats favor tax cuts that rely heavily on rebates as large as $600, along with "loophole closures" that increase corporate tax collections. Republicans largely prefer a plan that reduces local property taxes by increasing state spending on schools.

Sales was adamant that House Republican leaders will not move a budget to the floor until Schweitzer signs the tax cuts. Sales said at least a third of the projected billion-dollar surplus must go to tax cuts.

Sales was uncertain he could hold his caucus together against attempts by Democrats to draw Republicans to their side. But he said he wouldn't budge from his position requiring the governor to sign the Republican tax cut plan.

"Somebody will blink. I don't know if it's going to be us or it's going to be him," Sales said.

___

Associated Press Writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.