Op-Ed: Funding for Heritage Center provides legacy opportunity

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest editorial written by Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed

Lawmakers in Olympia have a rare opportunity this session to give a green light to the Washington State Heritage Center, creating much-needed jobs, generating sales tax revenue, and providing our citizens with a priceless resource that will serve as a legacy for future generations.

The Heritage Center would serve the entire state of Washington, provide a gateway experience for visitors to our Capitol Campus, and an array of services to our children and families. It brings together the state Archives, State Library, educational experiences, public gathering spaces, and a history displays under one roof, and also makes it all accessible online to a statewide and global audience. Programming will be carried statewide via TVW and the Internet. It truly offers something for everyone, whether you come to Olympia or not.

The Heritage Center, previously supported by large majorities of the Legislature back in 2007, is a shovel-ready jobs project that would create over 1,200 family-wage jobs.

It’s true that Washington is weathering a recession and has big budget problems. But, significantly, this Heritage Center project is not in competition with schools, health care and other operating fund programs. This project is handled in a separate construction budget that is often described as the economic stimulus budget for our state. The Legislature already has approved a separate revenue source, including a modest filing fee for certain documents, and does not require a fee or tax increase.

Indeed, this project will generate sales taxes of nearly $6 million. During the Great Depression and various state recessions, construction projects, including heritage projects, have helped provide jobs and left us a precious legacy.

The Heritage Center needs two things from the Legislature to make this dream a reality for the people of Washington:

— Authorization of a “certificate of participation,” essentially a mortgage to be repaid from the dedicated revenue, not general taxes or state-backed bonds;

— A firm commitment by the Legislature not to “raid” the Heritage Center revenue that has already accumulated in a savings account. This is the seed money for the project, a down-payment that makes the numbers work.

Action is needed this legislative session. The original design and price tag have been reduced, and a fine new building site has been identified at the main entrance to the Capitol Campus. The budget fits within projected revenue at this site, with this design, assuming no costly delay in getting a green light. Construction companies are hungry for business right now, but a delay would cause significant cost increases that could endanger the project.

This project will serve us all, giving easy, coordinated access to precious documents, books, oral history, and interactive displays and programs that will really bring alive the amazing story of Washington. It is not just another government building in Olympia. Across the state, citizens will be able to access school curriculum, myriad Library and Archives services, free access to oral histories and genealogy material, and much, much more.

The time to act is now.

Secretary of State Sam Reed. (COURTESY PHOTO)