April 29, 2010; Source: Portland Tribune | A plan to the prevent the Oregon Historical Society from becoming history has run into a snag, leaving the fate of the 112-year-old nonprofit in the hands of the state. The society had been hoping to take advantage of a 2007 Oregon law that allowed history facilities to collect “heritage” taxes via ballot measures.
However, the plan ran into opposition from Portland city officials, where the historical society is located, because of fears it might have confused voters who will also be asked to approve an arts funding measure. Now the institution’s future rests with the state, which had been its primary funder from 1899 to 2003. After a four-year hiatus, the Oregon legislature initially restored funding to $1.4 million a year, but that amount dropped to $300,000 a year for the 2009-2011 budget.
The society also receives proceeds from statewide sales of a new historical license plate. At its present rate of spending, the historical society expects its cash reserves to run out by late 2011 or early 2012. Although plans to raise money for the historical society through property taxes fell through, ironically work on the campaign caused state officials to focus on the institution’s financial plight.
But whether a solution exists is anybody’s guess. State Sen. Betsy Johnson, a former member of the Oregon Historical Society board, as were both parents, says the state is facing a potential budget shortfall in 2011-13 of up to $2.5 billion, which will likely result in calls to save any remaining funds for the next budget cycle. Noting that other cultural institutions, including the Portland Art Museum, were revived, Johnson still hopes something can be done. “I don’t want this place to die on my watch,” she said.—Bruce Trachtenberg