"The Heritage Hatchet" in Washington State

A useful and chilling post over at the Seattle blog Crosscut highlights another blow to history and heritage in the draconian state budget just proposed by Governor Gregoire. The Heritage Capitol Projects fund is to be eliminated, cutting $10 million from state heritage organizations and ending a program that since 1997 has helped fund historic preservation in the state. Crosscut lays out the impact of the decision:

So, the Seattle Theater Group will not get money for improvements to the historic Moore Theater ($531,259); the Museum of History and Industry will not get funds to fix plumbing and ventilation in its new museum space ($1 million), the Seattle Department of Transportation won't get additional funds for restoring King Street Station ($700,000), the Phinney Neighborhood Association won't receive a grant to renovate its historic community center ($994,950), SAM won't get help with new storage space for its collection ($30,890), the Center for Wooden Boats will miss out on money to build its new education center at South Lake Union park ($1,000,000), and Historic Seattle will lose restoration funds for the landmark Washington Hall in the Central District ($470,000).

And the list goes on for projects all over the state: the ship Lady Washington in Gray's Harbor, Tacoma's historic granary at Fort Nisqually, the Officer's Row housing at Ft. Vancouver, the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, the Blue Mountain Heritage Society's Smith Hollow School, the Maryhill Museum near Goldendale, Snoqualmie's railway museum, these and many more will lose out under the current plan.

The actual impact is greater than $10 million because the grants required $2 in matching funds for every state dollar.

As the details of this budget emerge it is clear that we are facing a disaster of historic proportions as the state walks away from maintaining its history and heritage and decides that these are no longer a function of government. Among the other monumental decisions in the budget:
  • Cut all state funding for the parks, many of which are historic parks. The parks will have to sink or swim with whatever recreational and camping fees they can generate (including $5 or $10 to visit a state park), and it is anticipated that many will simply close. Goodbye, Spokane House.
  • Slashing the budget of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and merging the agency with the Department of Natural Resources.
  • Eliminate other statewide historic programs including Barn Again, which helps owners identify and maintain the historic barns that define many of our rural areas.
What remains for history and heritage in the state budget? Not much. Though the budget will be cut, the Secretary of State will continue to maintain public records (as required the state constitution) many of which are historic through the state archives. (Full disclosure: I have a half-time appointment with the Washington State Archives.) The Washington State Library will take big cuts but it seems likely it will remain open in some form. Although the Archives and Library preserve historic records, neither offers extensive historical interpretation and outreach like the state historic societies and parks.

We are at a crossroads in Washington State. If we travel down the road the governor has outlined we face a future without a past. Admittedly she has only poor choices--the state budget must be balanced, and voters overturned even a small tax increase on soda pop in the recent elections. And yet there are other places that could be cut in a budget that still includes money for golf courses, state prisons crowded with non-violent offenders, and various big-ticket roads and building projects that, while necessary, could be delayed until the economy improves. The governor's constant refrain, that her only choices are to cut history (or whichever cut she is defending) or eliminate vaccines for poor children is simply not the case.

Please take a moment, right now, to contact your state representatives and protest these cuts. This post on the proposed MAC closure has links and details on how to do so.