A bill in the Legislature to save museums in Olympia, Tacoma and Spokane made it out of committee today, but it could still face some tough political resistance.
In a 6-5 vote, the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee passed House Bill 2033, which would create a Department of Heritage arts and Culture and set aside money to keep state museums open, though it went through amendments that reduced the state programs that would make up the new department.
What’s at stake in the bill is finding money for three state museums, including Tacoma’s State History Museum, that Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget proposal would have funded at such low levels they would not be able to stay open to the public.
It’s been controversial because the bill would take money away from a proposed State Heritage Center in Olympia that would house the State Library and Archives.
Rep. Jeanne Darnielle, a Tacoma Democrat and the primary sponsor of the bill, said it was worth it to transfer money from the Heritage Center project into a fund to benefit the new department because of the programs it would preserve.
“We’ll be able to maintain museums across the state in Olympia, Tacoma and Spokane as well as our arts commission, which affects every community around the state, in such a way that those organizations will remain open and thriving,” Darnielle said.
Secretary of State Sam Reed testified against the bill when it had a hearing last week, and in response to his concerns, the committee voted to take the State Library and Oral History Program out of the new department.
Reed said those changes improved the bill, but he still wasn’t happy with the proposal to take money away from the Heritage Center, which he said would be an important addition to the Capitol Campus.
He said he had heard from senators that they were not interested in shifting money away from the project, and he was confident that part of the bill wouldn’t make it through the Legislature.
Rep. Gary Alexander, a Thurston County Republican on the committee, said the state shouldn’t have to choose between taking money from the Heritage Center and closing the museums. The House Republican budget proposal, which was released today, found money to keep the museums in Tacoma and Spokane open, though the State Capitol Museum in Olympia would close.
That proposal made deeper cuts to human services than the Democrats’ budget, eliminating state subsidies for Basic Health, among other programs.