Montana Heritage Center tax plan passes Senate committee

The Montana Historical Society’s museum, called Montana’s Museum, sits across from the Capitol building. (Shaylee Ragar / UM Legislative News Service)

(UM Legislative News Service) A Senate panel has advanced a bill that would use a bed tax to fund the construction of the Montana Heritage Center, a project that has been in the works for more than a decade.

Sen. Terry Gauthier, a Republican from Helena, is sponsoring Senate Bill 338, also called the Montana Museums Act of 2020.  It would increase the sales tax on accommodations and campgrounds by 1 percent to pay for the new home for the Montana Historical Society, which has been collecting historical artifacts since 1865.

The Senate Finance and Claims Committee passed it 10-9 Monday.

The bill would also create a grant program to fund restorations of historical sites and museums across the state, which Historical Society director Bruce Whittenberg said would allow more community museums to showcase the society’s artifacts.

“An important way for Montanans and visitors to enjoy the collections of the historical society is through loans to local partners,” Whittenberg said.

In 2005, the Legislature approved a budget of $37.5 million to build the center, but never allocated funding. The project has been included in a number of infrastructure packages in past sessions, which failed to pass. Many conservatives have opposed the use of borrowing money to pay  for public works.

The bill will move to the full Senate for debate.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.