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House panel votes to kill Historical Society museum bill

Posted: 11:47 AM, Apr 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-11 13:47:31-04

HELENA — A Montana House committee Thursday voted to kill the measure that would authorize construction of a new, $48 million museum for the Montana Historical Society in Helena, and increase the state lodging tax to help fund it.

The House Taxation Committee at first deadlocked on a 9-9 vote to approve Senate Bill 338, which would raise the state lodging tax from 3 percent to 4 percent to finance construction of the museum and also create a grant program for local historical museums across the state.

Then, the panel voted to “table,” or kill SB338.

Montana Historical Society Director Bruce Whittenberg said after the vote that bill supporters may try to bring SB338 to the House floor, which would require 58 votes from the full House.

Two Republicans — Reps. Tom Welch of Dillon and Joshua Kassmeier of Fort Benton — joined all seven Democrats on the committee to support the measure. But nine Republicans, including House Speaker Greg Hertz of Polson, voted against it.

Before the vote, Hertz said he felt there are “many more priorities” for taxpayer money in the state. He also said building a new museum in Helena may not be the best location, and that perhaps the society could consider other locations around the state.

The Historical Society has been trying for more than a decade to get approval and funding for a new museum to display its huge collection of artifacts and other material, much of which is in a warehouse near the Helena airport.

The tax increase in SB338 would raise $8 million to $10 million a year, with 80 percent of that amount going toward financing the museum construction over the next five years. The remainder would go to the local historical preservation grants.

The Historical Society already has about $10 million for construction of the new museum, from private donations and bonds sold more than a decade ago.

SB338 also has authorization for $400,000 each for maintenance at the Marcus Daly mansion near Hamilton and the Moss Mansion in Billings, both of which are historical sites owned by the state.

Story by Mike Dennison – MTN News