Money set aside for Olympia's long-delayed Heritage Center could be raided to save three history museums, including the State Capital Museum near the Capitol Campus.
House budget vice chairwoman Jeannie Darneille said Thursday that she expects the spending plan being developed by House Democrats will include her proposal to preserve the museums. She would merge them with other cultural programs.
A committee vote scheduled for this morning will give a clue as to how much support her idea enjoys.
Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed, who opposes Darneille’s proposal, said that even if the plan lacks support, the museums and the State Arts Commission aren’t in as much danger as it might seem.
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Reed said his optimism has increased after he talked to budget leaders in the House and Senate. They aren’t following the same script as Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has called for eliminating the commission and mothballing the museums in Olympia, Tacoma and Spokane to help bridge a $5.3 billion budget shortfall.
“I’ve been assured there is going to be money for these organizations,” Reed said.He made the comments to House members Thursday at a hearing on the proposal by Darneille, a Tacoma Democrat, to merge all of them into a new Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture.
State Historical Society Director David Nicandri, whose agency runs the history museum on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma, said later that he’s had no assurances from lawmakers that the museum would stay open. He also said there are questions about how much money it would receive in the merger being contemplated.
Critics Thursday focused on the plan’s potential effect on the State Library, which would be removed from Reed’s office and consolidated into the new department.
His agency says the library already has seen its budget cut by more than one-third and its staff by more than half. In its Tumwater facility, the library lacks space and pays more than $1 million a year in rent.
That’s the reasoning behind plans for a Heritage Center on the Capitol Campus that would include the library and historical and archival exhibits.
But the $119 million construction project is unlikely to happen in the next two years, and Darneille’s plan would divert $8 million in fee revenue away from the Heritage Center and into her proposed new agency.
Reed called grabbing money from the Heritage project an ill-advised “light-bulb snatch.”Others, however, said it makes sense to take the money to fund today’s needs.
“It’s illogical to defund the State Historical Society,” said Lauren Danner, former director of the State Capital Museum, “while setting aside money for a new Heritage Center that, even if built, could never be the society’s equal.”
The Historical Society runs the capital museum and the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, while the Eastern Washington State Historical Society runs the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane.