Legislative session puts preservationists on 'defense'

It’s fair to say that when the Washington State Legislature convened Monday in Olympia, no one was looking forward to the work that lay ahead. Last month, Gov. Chris Gregoire submitted a balanced budget proposal that included severe cuts to everything from public education to health care, and aimed to close a $2.6 billion deficit. This week, however, she submitted a revised budget that restores nearly $780 million in services.

But budget cuts loom.

That has forced advocates for a variety of issues or projects that rely on state funding to pay closer attention to what happens in Olympia during the 60-day session.

One group of advocates doing just that is the state’s historic preservationists. Indeed, dozens of preservationists gathered in the John A. Cherberg Building on the Capitol Campus Wednesday morning to convene the Washington State Heritage Caucus. The caucus was created 20 years ago for people to learn more about how pending legislation and current initiatives might impact the state’s cultural, heritage, and arts resources and organizations (see ” Washington State Heritage Caucus: A legislative voice for historic preservation,” TDI, 01/14/10 — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1694361&more=0 or http://wahmee.com/tdi_heritage_caucus.pdf ).

“This is a defense year,” said caucus member and former Washington State Secretary of State Ralph Munro during Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s more important we are here because this is the year things can disappear.”

This week the caucus was briefed on a variety of items. Caucus staffer and Washington State Arts Commission Communications Manager Mark Gerth provided a brief overview of a dozen proposed bills that could have some impact (large or small) on heritage and cultural projects. Gov. Gregoire’s policy advisor Kathleen Drew provided an overview of the governor’s budget proposal.

One issue receiving much attention is Gov. Gregoire’s plan to eliminate funding for the Washington State Main Street Program, which supports the revitalization of historic downtowns. According to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, the Washington State Main Street Program has overseen the creation of 11,390 jobs, 3,534 new and expanded businesses, and investment of $388 million in commercial infrastructure over the past 25 years. For every $328 invested by the State, the Washington State Main Street Program has created one new job, according to the Washington Trust. Similarly, every dollar invested in the program has leveraged $115 in private investment.

In 2009, the Washington State Main Street Program budget was cut by 75 per cent.
Washington State Main Street Program sites include Ellensburg, Chelan, Kennewick, Port Angeles, Mount Vernon, Olympia, Port Townsend, Puyallup, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Bainbridge Island.

On Wednesday, the Ellensburg Downtown Association announced more than 500 supporters have joined a Facebook page entitled “Supporting Main Street in Washington State” ( http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=info&ref=mf&gid=233019454367 ) in an attempt to save the program.

House Bill 2617 was another item of interest during Wednesday’s Heritage Caucus. The bill would eliminate a long list of boards and commissions, including the Women’s History Consortium, Washington Main Street Advisory Committee, Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee, and the Capital Projects Advisory Review Board and Project Review Committee. According to a policy brief from Gov. Gregoire’s office, the move is being made to streamline government by eliminating 95 boards, commissions, and advisory committees (17 boards will be eliminated immediately by executive order, 78 will be repealed through legislation).

The Heritage Caucus meets every Wednesday morning from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. during legislative sessions in Olympia on the Capital Campus, Cherberg Building, Conference Room A-B-C.

For more information about the Heritage Caucus, visit http://www.arts.wa.gov/projects/heritage-caucus.shtml .