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Heritage Center money could be tapped for state history museums

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 23, 2011 at 10:39 am |
March 23, 2011 1:12 pm

Supporters of the threatened state history museums in Tacoma and Spokane think they have found money to keep them alive.

But their proposed funding source steps all over some closely protected turf: plans to build a Heritage Center on the Capitol campus, which were made in better economic times and have yet to get off the ground.

Rep. Jeannie Darneille today introduced HB 2033, which would divert $8 million in fees intended for the Heritage project to a new Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture.

The department would oversee the museums, which Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed mothballing, and the state Arts Commission, which she wants to eliminate. It would also have jurisdiction over the State Library and archaeology, tourism, film and oral history programs.

The proposal would cut $12 million in general fund money from those programs, but with help from the heritage money, they would keep about 80 percent of their current funding, Darneille said.

Fees that county auditors collect for processing legal documents and that the secretary of state collects for processing business registrations is supposed to go to the planned $119 million Heritage project, championed by Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County. It would move the State Library back to the Capitol Campus from Tumwater and link it to the state archives and visitor center.

Darneille, D-Tacoma and vice-chairwoman of the House budget committee, presented her plan to a group of supporters of heritage programs this morning and acknowledged it received an icy reception. Fraser was “quite shocked at the funding mechanism,” Darneille said.

But Darneille said it doesn’t make sense “to keep money in the fund for a project that won’t be implemented in that biennium — and perhaps ever — to the extent that we then are unable to keep museums opened and our current assets maintained.”

The plan faces other obstacles. Some legislators, like Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is also pushing for the use of Heritage Center money for the arts and culture programs, but doesn’t want them merged into a single agency.

UPDATE 1:12 p.m.: As expected, Sen. Fraser isn’t pleased about the use of Heritage Center money.

She acknowledged it’s unrealistic to expect the facility will be built in the next two-year budget period.

But the money raised in that period should go toward paying for a construction project that will benefit the public for decades, Fraser said.

“To take it away and spend it in two years — I think it’s short sighted,” she said.

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