Newest District 15 senator already on the job
Senator Ryan Osmundson shares his legislative goals at the News-Argus Tuesday.
Photo by Jacques Rutten
Central Montana’s newest state senator, Ryan Osmundson (R, S.D. 15) doesn’t technically take office until January, but he isn’t letting that stop him from getting right to work. In Lewistown on Tuesday, Osmundson said he had just returned from Helena, where the House and Senate both held caucuses and elected new leadership.
Osmundson took part in choosing the new Senate leadership, including the Senate President Scott Sales (R), Majority Leader Fred Thomas (R), President Pro Tem Bob Keenan (R) and Majority Whips Mark Blasdel, Edward Buttrey and Cary Smith (all Republicans).
As a result of the meetings, Osmundson already has his committee assignments, one of which is the Committee on Committees, which, he says, serves to set up all the committees in the Senate, as well as those in the House, with input from the House leadership.
“It’s an on-call committee, and we do the ground work so the other committees can get going,” Osmundson said.
Once the 2017 Legislature convenes on Jan. 2, 2017, Osmundson will be working on the Finance and Claims Committee, the Administration committee and the Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee.
“Finance and Claims will take about 80 percent of my time, I think,” Osmundson said. “In my time in the House, I specialized in the budget. It’s so involved in everything that happens, it makes for a constant work load all year long.”
In addition, Osumunson said he has a few personal goals and priorities which he will be working on, the most important of which is to make sure the budget is balanced.
“Every session is different, with different problems, different situations that arise and a different make-up of the legislature. But a balanced budget is always important, and perhaps more important now because revenues are way down,” Osmundson said.
While the decline in coal and oil receipts worry him in the long term, a more immediate concern is the decrease in income from a decline in personal income tax receipts.
“Income taxes are down all over the state,” he explained. “Some of that has to do with the overall economy, but especially from agriculture. We are looking at a decline that’s going to mean a lean couple of years. I’ll be looking very carefully at the budget. Well take a global perspective first, then dive into the details. Some agencies are easier to work with than others.”
Osmundson said the budget process starts with a proposal from the governor, which he expects to be a reduced from the budget for the prior legislative session.
“We need to look at the projections, and figure out how long and how deep the dip in revenues will be,” Osmundson said. “With what I know right now, it looks like a two to four year dip, not a recession, but we will get input on that from experts. Then, starting with the governor’s budget, we’ll go through each agency’s budget and see what we need to do to keep within our budget constraints.”
Besides the budget, Osmundson expects infrastructure to be a hot topic. How to approach the state’s infrastructure needs is, he said, the “$64,000 question.” Gas tax, he said, is not the answer, although changing the standards might be.
“It concerns me when we look at local governments and what they deal with sometimes,” Osmundson said. “Sometimes they are planning to spend millions simply because standards changed, and a water treatment plant that is operating perfectly well no longer meets a standard.”
Osmundson said he is planning to look into the possibilities of approaching EPA to change some standards to be less restrictive.
“We should be able to use common sense in setting these standards,” he said. “If the standards were more reasonable, some of our infrastructure needs would go away.”
On a more local level, Osmundson said he will discuss keeping Ackley Lake a state park. Recently the State Parks Board voted to remove state park designation from the popular local recreation site.
“One thing they failed to look at when they did their ranking of the parks is the large number of people who visit Ackley every year,” Osmundson said. “The visitation number I’ve heard is 32,000, which is larger than most of the State Parks. It seems to me that a $12,000 investment for 32,000 visits is a good investment. I plan to have some discussions with the State Parks Board on that.”
Osmundson said he is looking forward to getting started on these and other goals. As he has in the past, he plans to move his wife, Jessica and their nine children from their home in Buffalo to Helena for the legislative session, while they rent out their home in Buffalo.
“One more thing,” he added. “I just want the voters to know I am greatly appreciative and humbled by the results of the election and everyone’s support. It’s an honor to represent Central Montana in the Senate.”