By AMY BETH HANSON Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's House Appropriations Committee voted Monday to advance a nearly $10.3 billion budget to fund state services over the next two years.
The committee's budget, which will see some changes, is nearly $28 million less than Gov. Steve Bullock proposed. The largest reductions, as the bill stands, would be to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Committee members made several amendments to sections of the funding bill, with Republicans moving money around and resisting efforts to increase spending.
The bill passed 16-6 and now goes to the full House.
After a hearing last week, the committee restored funding for seven vacant positions it had proposed cutting from the vocational rehabilitation program. Instead, it cut six unfilled positions from the child support enforcement division.
Lawmakers also moved nearly $16 million into the Children's Health Insurance Program to make up for reductions in federal funds and a decline in tobacco tax collections.
The Republican majority turned down efforts to spend more on education, saying there are separate policy bills to consider inflationary increases to special education spending and funding early childhood education.
In one amendment, the state Auditor's Office eliminated seven vacant positions at a savings of just over $1 million, but asked for permission to spend an additional $350,000 to continue efforts to investigate and challenge the high cost of prescription drugs.
All told, Auditor Matt Rosendale proposed a $650,000 cut in funding for his office.
Rosendale's cuts make the "vacancy savings" permanent unless a future state auditor asks lawmakers to restore the funding, said spokesman Kyle Schmauch.
"This is a model example of fiscal responsibility in government and allowing the legislative branch to exercise proper oversight of executive agency spending," Schmauch said in a statement.
Democrats on the committee argued the state needs new revenue rather than pitting one agency against another for funding.
Lawmakers "will continue to make these ugly choices on who wins and who loses without increased revenue," said Democratic Rep. Marilyn Ryan.
Committee co-chair Rep. Nancy Ballance countered that the state has added so many programs that revenues can't keep up.

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