History museum likely to survive
JORDAN SCHRADER; Staff writer
One way or another, budget writers in the Legislature are moving closer to saving the Washington State History Museum in downtown Tacoma, along with the state’s other history museums, from cuts laid out by the governor.
House budget vice chairwoman Jeannie Darneille of Tacoma 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 and pay for them by raiding money from a planned construction project in Olympia.
A committee vote scheduled for this morning will give a clue as to how much support her idea enjoys.
Even if it falters, Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed, an opponent of Darneille’s proposal, says the museums and the State Arts Commission aren’t in as much danger as it may seem.
Reed said his optimism has increased after talking to the 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 Tacoma, Olympia 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 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 museum on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma, said later that he’s had no assurances from lawmakers that it would stay open. He also said there are questions about how much money it would receive in the merger being contemplated.
But Nicandri said Darneille’s proposal released last week represents “the first positive affirmation, on the record, of an intention to keep the history museum here in Tacoma open.”
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 has already seen its budget cut by more than a third and its staff cut 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 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 Washington State History Museum in Tacoma and the capital museum, while the Eastern Washington State Historical Society runs the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane.
Patrons of the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library, a part of the State Library that serves the blind, filled the hearing’s audience Thursday.
Among the users of the downtown Seattle Braille library is Greg Jack of Olympia, who has used the 459,000-item collection since he was a boy growing up in Spokane. Jack checks out several books a month – both audio books that he downloads and Braille books that come by mail.
He worries about the effect of budget cuts on services such as the braille books produced locally, but he and other patrons don’t think combining the library with other agencies is the right solution.
Patrons are involved with the agency through an advisory council, and Jack wonders if their voice will remain effective if the library becomes “part of a bigger bureaucracy,” he said.
Similarly, Reed told lawmakers he hates to think what would happen if the Braille library were “put into the bowels of a mega-agency.”