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Gianforte’s budget director steps down; GOP legislator will take the job

Lawmaker appointment raises constitutional question
Alme-Kurt.jpg
Posted at 6:18 PM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 18:03:07-04

HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte’s budget director, Kurt Alme, will step down next month and be replaced by a Republican state senator and rancher, the Gianforte administration announced late Tuesday.

State Sen. Ryan Osmundson of Buffalo will be the administration’s new budget director as of Oct. 1.

“With a decade of experience shaping state budgets in the Montana Legislature, Ryan has earned a reputation as a strong fiscal conservative,” Gianforte said. “Ryan will bring his years of experience and leadership to build upon Kurt’s work, developing a fiscally conservative budget while preserving essential services and ensuring Montanans keep more of what they earn.”

Osmundson, re-elected to a second term as state senator last year, is chair of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, the main budget panel in the Senate.

The state constitution says no member of the Legislature can be appointed to “any civil office under the state” during “the term for which he shall have been elected.”

Osmundson told MTN News Wednesday he plans to resign his seat before he is officially appointed by the governor.

“I’m excited to take on the job; it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “I enjoy what I’ve been able to do with the budget in the Senate, and I’m looking forward to having a different take as budget director.”

Gianforte’s office hasn’t yet responded to MTN News inquiries about how the appointment of Osmundson complies with the state constitutional ban on lawmakers being appointed to a civil office during their term.

Tom Lopach, a former chief of staff to Gianforte’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, said the Bullock administration had several opportunities to appoint sitting legislators to positions within the administration, but felt it would violate the state constitution.

“We paid attention to that,” he told MTN News this week. “There were times when a legislator might have fit the job, or expressed interest in a position. But the constitution is the constitution and we followed it.”

It’s not clear whether the state budget director is a “civil office.” Although it’s a key member of the governor’s cabinet and directs the crafting of the state’s biennial budget, it doesn’t require confirmation by the state Senate, like appointed state agency directors do.

Alme, one of Gianforte’s first cabinet appointments after Gianforte won the governorship in the 2020 election last November, said he’d been commuting to the job from his home in Billings, which was “unworkable for the long term.”

He thanked Gianforte for the opportunity to work as budget director, but said he looked forward to “regularly having dinner with my wife and family and sleeping in my own bed again.”

Osmundson, whose family operates a cattle and sheep ranch west of Buffalo, which is southwest of Lewistown, said he plans initially to commute to the job as well, likely renting some place in Helena to stay while he works at the Capitol.