State legislators plan to try to keep the State History Museum in Tacoma open, based on the budget proposal released by the House of Representatives today.
In the two-year operating budget bill, House Bill 1087, representatives included a proposal to find funding for the museum by merging several state programs into a new Department of Heritage Arts and Culture and taking money that would go to a Heritage Center on the Capitol Campus, a move museum advocates and Tacoma officials applauded.
“This is kind of a reversal in trend from the governor’s numbers,” said David Nicandri, the Director of the Washington State Historical Society, referring to the Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to close the museum in her budget bill.
Though funding for the museum still is not assured, Nicandri said the main reason today’s budget was important was that it represented such a change since the governor’s proposal in January, the last time an official version of the state operating budget came out.
Gregoire’s proposal would have cut the historical society’s funding by about 55 percent, leaving it with enough money to preserve the collection in Tacoma, but not to keep the Tacoma museum open to the public.
The House budget would cut the historical society by about $700,000, or about 19 percent, Nicandri said.
That’s likely to mean reduced staff and fewer public programs, among other cuts, he said, but at least it would mean the museum, along with museums in Spokane and Olympia will be able to stay open.
Randy Lewis, the Government Operations Manager for the City of Tacoma, said the budget proposal was evidence that the Legislature had been listening to the concerns of Tacoma officials who had been pushing for reorganization of state government over elimination of programs like the museum.
If it closed, Lewis said, Tacoma would have suffered, first because it meant the closure of a state program that brought thousands of visitors to the area and, second, because of the psychological impact of shuttering part of Tacoma’s downtown area.
“This institution, which was sort of the kick off of the revitalization of downtown Tacoma, was going to close,” Lewis said.
The proposal to find funding for the museum, which is part of House Bill 2033, has faced some opposition so far in the Legislature, however. At a hearing on the proposal last week, Secretary of State Sam Reed said he opposed ideas in the bill, including those that would move the State Library into the new department and take funding away from construction of the Heritage Center.
Rep. Jeanne Darnielle, a Tacoma Democrat and the primary sponsor of the bill, said it was a “win-win” proposal that would benefit Spokane, Tacoma and the economic well-being of people around the state.
House Bill 2033 is scheduled for a vote in the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee Wednesday.