Washington State History Museum finds support
ROB CARSON AND JORDAN SCHRADER; Staff writers
Efforts to save Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum from the budget ax gained considerable political momentum last week, with several new interest groups joining the cause and a top lobbyist enlisted to argue their case in Olympia.
“We’re putting together an effort from anybody and everybody who wants to be involved,” said Tom Luce, executive director of the Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma. “There’s going to be a very large push in Olympia to let them know how important this is.”
On Friday, the group, loosely organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board, hired longtime lobbyist Greg Pierce to work on its behalf.
Earlier in the week, the Tacoma group agreed to join forces with a similar group in Spokane, working to stop budget cuts that would shut that city’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
At Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland’s request, the Tacoma City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution expressing its support for keeping the museum open.
“It’s not just a repository of history; it’s a big engine of our economic core,” Strickland said. “It’s part of our cultural identity as a community; it’s part of our renaissance.”
The resolution notes, among other things, that the museum is a “cornerstone of Tacoma’s downtown redevelopment” and “a showcase of our collective heritage.”
Gregoire has recommended cutting $2.9 million from the museum’s budget, leaving it only enough for a skeleton crew and to keep the power on.
If state lawmakers approve the cut, the museum will have to either raise dramatically more money from the public or mothball its collections.
The museum moved from its Stadium District building to its $40 million, 106,000-square-foot building downtown in 1996. The city donated the land, and private donors raised millions.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, is enthusiastically supporting the effort to keep the museum open, encouraging local leaders and members of the Pierce County legislative delegation, his spokesman, George Behan, said Friday.
“The concern Norm has is the responsibility to keep economic development going in Tacoma,” Behan said. “No one wants to have a boarded-up building right on the front door of the city of Tacoma.
“This would be a setback, so he’s energized.”
Those fighting for the museum’s survival will have to get in line with advocates and unions asking lawmakers to prioritize social services, where cuts have consequences for people’s health and lives.
Still, there is a reason for optimism among museum supporters: the museums’ small budgets.
Closing the museums in Tacoma and Spokane, as proposed by Gregoire, would save the state $5 million over two years. It would take 1,000 cuts of that size to make up the $4.6 billion budget shortfall.
State lawmakers from Tacoma, including House Budget Committee Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Darneille, plan to fight the closure. They are likely to get help from a Spokane delegation that includes Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown.
Key lawmakers praised the museums. It would be a “horrible travesty” to close them, said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, chairman of the budget subcommittee that oversees the museums.
But even some supporters will be looking for ways to unload them onto local or private bank accounts.
“Maybe this is the time we spin them out of the state so they’re not state-funded,” Hudgins said.
That’s not an appropriate solution, said Bruce Kendall, president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board.
“The state needs to maintain its commitment to accessibility to its history,” Kendall said. “That’s not a private-sector obligation.”
Senate budget chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said he wants to avoid cuts to lifesaving programs, but the museum is “incredibly important” too.
“The human spirit also has to be fed,” Murray said.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826