Panel advances bill to finance new Historical Society museum in Helena

Posted at 4:19 PM, Mar 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-25 19:37:20-04

HELENA — On a 10-9 vote, the bill to finance a proposed $48 million new museum for the Montana Historical Society advanced out of committee Monday.

The Senate Finance and Claims Committee sent Senate Bill 338 to the Senate floor, just hours after concluding a lengthy hearing on the bill that saw two dozen people testify for it. Two Republicans and all eight Democrats on the panel voted for the bill; the nine “no” votes came from Republicans.

SB338, sponsored by Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, would increase the state lodging tax from 3 percent to 4 percent and use the money not only to finance the new museum, but also to pay for grants to historical museums and sites across the state.

The bill authorizes construction of the Historical Society’s proposed Heritage Center, a project that’s been on the drawing board for more than a decade and is tentatively planned for a site just northeast of the Capitol.

The tax increase, which would take effect next January, would raise an additional $8 million to $10 million a year. For the next five years, 80 percent of that increase would go into an account to finance construction of the Heritage Center.

The other 20 percent would fund a new historic preservation grant program, administered by the Department of Commerce. Local historical museums, societies or keepers of historic sites could apply for the money, the Commerce Department would review the applications and make recommendations, and the Legislature would make the final decision.

The bill also would appropriate $400,000 each for refurbishment of the Marcus Daly mansion near Hamilton and the Moss Mansion in Billings, both of which are historical sites owned by the state.

The Historical Society already has about $10 million for construction of the Heritage Center, from private donations and bonds sold more than a decade ago. Money from SB338 would cover most of the rest of the project’s cost, spread over five years.