Archive for January 2007
“There’s an expression our president likes to use: `If there’s a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there by itself.’”
-Washington State University’s Larry Ganders, making a budget presentation to a House committee this morning.
Despite resistance from some some lawmakers, Gov. Chris Gregoire says she’ll likely sign a proposed compact that would allow the Spokane Tribe of Indians up to 4,700 slot-style machines at as many as five casinos.
“I’m delighted they finally did come to the table,” said Gregoire, who as attorney general once sued the tribe for offering gambling without a state compact. “They have stayed the course and negotiated in good faith.”
She spoke at her weekly news conference with reporters at the capitol.
Asked if she would sign the compact as it is now, Gregoire responded “I haven’t thoroughly reviewed it, every jot and tittle of it, but the parameters that I’ve heard about, yes I would.”
Several prominent lawmakers in both parties have suggested that the compact is too generous and will spark me-too requests from other tribes. It allows high-stakes betting for pre-approved high rollers and cash-fed slot-style machines, both a first in Washington. It would also allow the Spokanes the second-highest number of slot-style machines of any Washington tribe, after the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
The state gambling commission will hold a hearing on the compact in early February and vote whether to recommend the governor sign it. But Gregoire is the state’s final word on the agreement.
(Background for Eastern WA readers who haven’t been following the drama: Gov. Chris Gregoire and key lawmakers are very, very reluctant to spend the extra money replacing Seattle’s elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. They fear Big Dig-style massive cost overruns. It would be cheaper, simpler and far quicker, they say, to simply replace the elevated freeway with the same thing. Seattle leaders, who see this as a historic effort to rid the city of its ugly waterfront freeway, are pushing for a tunnel.)
“I guess I’m gonna speak for the public. Why did we wait so long? We’ve been spending a lot of money over a lot of years trying to make a decision…To me this is an 11th hour issue. And I really am disappointed, because I think that people need to move forward and do something…I have people from this committee and across the legislature coming to me saying we need money for projects. And everyone sees this project in seattle that’s gone on and on and on and has cost lots and lots of money. And what you’re coming forward with now, it seems to me we needed to do more work, and how much more is that work going to cost and where is that money going to come from?”
—Senate Transportation Committee chairwoman Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island during a hearing Thursday.
In response, Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, noted that Seattle has long been a “donor county,” watching its tax dollars go to pay for projects in other counties, particularly in rural areas of the state.
Everybody else likes to make a decision (for) all the money that goes in together. But then when we turn around for the donor county to receive their share, all of a sudden everybody’s got a problem.”
Haugen fires back:
I don’t think anyone had any problem with the donor counties. I went to my voters and told them we have a crisis in central Puget sound, please do not repeal the 9.5 cents, we need to spend $2 billion to rebuild the (viaduct). I don’t care which way they do it. Just do it. And don’t spend any more money. With that, we’re adjourned.
Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, wants to ban paying signature-gatherers by the signature. It encourages fraud, she said, since the going rate for ballot measures is $2.50 to $5 a signature.
“To me, that is pretty obscene,” she said at a House hearing a few minutes ago. Appleton has proposed a per-signature payment ban: House Bill 1087.
A ballot measure should be “a right that is reserved to the people and it should be because of people’s passion,” Appleton said. “…Nowhere in the constitution does it say that initiatives and referenda should be big business.”
Washington has allowed citizen-led ballot measures since 1912. From 1913 until a court ruling in Colorado in 1988, the state banned any payment to signature-gatherers. In 1993, lawmakers passed a law banning per-signature payment; it was struck down the following year.
But now, due to recent court rulings in North Dakota and Oregon, Appleton thinks that a per-signature ban could pass court muster.
The Secretary of State’s office says all-volunteer initiatives tend to have fewer invalid signatures than campaigns that use paid signature gatherers.
But since the vast majority of ballot measures in recent years have used a combination of paid and volunteer signature-gatherers, the correlation is disputed by ballot measure promoter Tim Eyman and other critics of Appleton’s bill. Also, they say, there’s little evidence of signature fraud in Washington.
“This is a bill that answers a problem that doesn’t even exist,” said Mike Dunmire, a retired Woodinville investor who has bankrolled much of Eyman’s work over the past few years.
Being forced to pay by the hour would make signature gathering much more expensive, Eyman told the committee. That, he said, would ensure that only wealthy groups and corporations can afford to get their proposals on the ballot.
Eyman, citing records requests from state election officials, said that the state has found no verified evidence of forgery or signature fraud in at least the past seven years.
UPDATE: Here’s www.horsesass.org blogger David Goldstein’s take on the proposal.
UPDATE 2: And here’s www.soundpolitics.com’s Stefan Sharkansky’s take.
Both Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp say that the proposal to provide same-sex partners with some of the same legal protections that married couples get has good odds of passing both the Senate and House this year.
Nearly half the Senate has signed on as co-sponsors of the Senate version, and fully half the House — 49 lawmakers — are co-sponsoring HB 1351, the House version.
A hearing is slated for 3:30 today in the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee on SB 5336. Slated to testify is Charlene Strong, who lost her partner Kate Fleming last month when a flash flood swept into Strong’s basement apartment, trapping and killing her. On the other side of the issue will by Jon Russell, representing the conservative Faith and Freedom Network, which is opposing the bill. (Strong and Russell won’t be the only ones to testify.)
“I sense pretty widespread support for the domestic partnership bill,” Brown said at a meeting with capitol reporters last week. Unlike another bill to allow full marriage rights for same-sex partners, she said, “the approach that has the momentum is the domestic partnership approach.”
A lot of people, gay and straight, she said, can sympathize with the plight of being shut out of a loved one’s hospital room or funeral arrangements, something that some gay and lesbian couples wrestle with.
Chopp said married couples take those things for granted. Extending such legal rights to same-sex partners, he said, “is absolutely the right thing to do. We haven’t had much caucus discussion of the proposal, but I think our caucus is wanting to extend civil rights.”
Excerpts from House Speaker Frank Chopp’s weekly meeting with capitol reporters Wednesday:
-The House likes a proposal to let school districts pass levies (typically for a few years at a time and typically used for maintenance and operations) with a simple majority of voters but wants to keep the current requirement that bonds (typically long-term debt for big projects) need 60 percent “supermajority” approval.
-The innovation zones bill will be passing soon on the House floor.
-House Democrats are pushing a farm package that would extend a sales tax break on agricultural equipment and some diesel fuel.
-Re: proposals for tax dollars to help build a NASCAR racetrack and a new Sonics stadium: “The silence is sort of deafening, really…Normally, when you you want to pass something, you have to have people (i.e. lawmakers) supporting it.”
-More on the Sonics: “We haven’t got a proposal from them yet. They haven’t picked the city. They haven’t revealed the source of this funding they want to go after. So what are we responding to?…Imagine what $300 million could do for school construction in this state.”
-House Democrats will be meeting with Washington National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg tomorrow. A key topic: the war in Iraq: “How does that mistake affect our ability to help our citizens in time of emergency?”
-On the Alaskan Way Viaduct tussle: “The tunnel proposal was not feasible, therefore we can’t do it.” Of the 98 lawmakers in the House, he estimated, about 8 are in favor of a tunnel.
It’s clear that the state Republican Party is keeping a list of controversial bills to be used as political ammunition at campaign.
That’s nothing new. Both parties do it every year, trotting out those proposals and bad-sounding votes at campaign time.
What’s unusual is that this year we’re getting a sneak preview of the GOP’s growing stockpile in press releases blasting the Democrats and highlighting a “Silly Bill of the Week.”
Among the Republican favorite targets to date (Quotes are from state GOP chairwoman Diane Tebelius):
-A bill to establish a state income tax (“introduced…the first week of the session”)
-A bill (HB 1473) making it easier for felons to have their voting rights restored. (“Week Two of the Democrats’ election reform agenda is to make sure to count as many felon votes as you can!”)
-A bill (HB 1360) to allow taxpayers to finance some judge elections. (“…Not a priority for voters”)
-And Rep. Maralyn Chase’s bill (HB 1524) which would require new holiday lights to be efficient light-emitting diodes, instead of traditional power-sucking incandescents. (“Representative Chase should be better known as the Grinch who stole your Christmas lights.”)
After more than a decade of court fights and a year of negotiation, Spokane tribal members told skeptical lawmakers Tuesday, an agreement allowing the Spokanes up to 4,700 slot-style machines at five sites would be a good deal for both the tribe and region.
The plan is a sign of a “new and positive relationship” between the state and tribe, tribal secretary Gerald Nicodemus (pictured, at microphone) told lawmakers.
Some lawmakers, however, didn’t sound so positive. They say the deal is too generous to the Spokanes, the only remaining gambling tribe in Washington without a state agreement. The state has long maintained that the tribe’s existing slot machines in its casinos in Chewelah and north of Davenport are illegal.
The proposed compact “rewards illegal operations and encourages a tremendous expansion of gambling,” said Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.
The agreement, if approved by the governor and federal government, would not grant the tribe the right to develop a new casino on part of 145 acres of off-reservation land it owns near Airway Heights. That’s a separate decision that will start with federal officials and include the governor and Spokane County. One lawmaker opined Tuesday that the Spokane Tribe’s odds of winning that rare federal approval are “nil.”
Still, Nicodemus told lawmakers Tuesday, the state compact would help the tribe recover the self-sufficiency once supplied by its 3 million acres of ancestral lands. The gambling envisioned in the compact, he said, would pay for better education for the tribe’s children, better health care for its elders and a diversified reservation economy.
“This compact will be our best chance to impact our tribe’s future in a significant and historic way,” Nicodemus said.
Tribal attorneys, who point out that the state first asked for a state compact back in 1988, say the existing slot machines are and always have been legal.
“Our intent with this compact is to bury the hatchet, not to swing it,” said tribal attorney Scott Crowell.
Tribal gaming is a surging industry in Washington. It now accounts for nearly $1.2 billion of the state’s $1.8 billion in gambling, according to state gambling commission estimates. Tribal casino profits are now more than six times what the state collects from Washington’s lottery, and 12 times what the state gets from pull-tab sales.
Most of that growth has come from the machines, which have mushroomed from about 3,000 in 2001 to about 17,000 today.
“Where does that end?” said Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center.
In addition to allowing up to 4,700 machines, the Spokane compact includes some extras that other tribes haven’t gotten. It allows machines that are cash-fed, instead of forcing players to use paper tickets or plastic cards. And it allows high-stakes betting at limits set by the tribe.
“I can hear it coming: ‘Look what you did for the Spokanes,’ ” said Sen. Jim Clements, R-Selah, whose district includes the Yakama Tribe.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, said she doesn’t like the high-rollers provision.
“It’s still real troublesome that you can leapfrog over (the other tribes) and have a real juicy plum that other tribes don’t have,” she told tribal members.
One tribal elder was clearly offended by the legislative resistance and by how little time was allowed for tribal members to speak.
“I came over here with a good heart,” said Jim Sijohn, who bristled at some of Prentice’s comments.
This is the compact’s second version. In 2005, the tribe and state negotiators settled on an agreement that would have allowed up to 7,500 machines, including 4,000 in a single casino. Some lawmakers balked, and Gregoire ordered the version scrapped.
Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.
- Otto von Bismarck
The fight over the Viaduct is producing the legislative version of Greek choruses, with various alliances of lawmakers trying to stake out their positions with increasingly opaque joint statements:
First came this, from Gov. Chris Gregoire, House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, Rep. Judy Clibborn and Seattle City Council President Nick Licata:
“We all understand that we need to move forward. No action is not an option…There are two remaining options: move forward with an elevated viaduct replacement or reprogram funding to the 520 replacement project.
“We thank all parties for a very candid discussion.”
Then came this, from east-of-Seattle Republican Reps. Fred Jarrett, Jay Rodne and Glenn Anderson (this was Rodne being quoted):
“The 520 bridge and I-405 are important to our daily commutes and future economic vitality. For too long their much-need improvements have been delayed as a result of inaction on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It’s time to move forward.”
Then this, from Reps. Helen Sommers and Mary Lou Dickerson:
“The people in our district — as well as in most Seattle districts — voted in 2005 to sustain the increased transportation revenues because they had confidence that the viaduct was a priority project. We need to respect that confidence.”
And now this, from state senators Ken Jacobsen, Adam Kline, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Ed Murray and Erik Poulsen:
“We are working together for a satisfactory solution that ensures that the values of Seattle residents are respected. We are committed to listening to the people of Seattle and ensuring that their voices are heard in Olympia.”
“The economy of the future is going to require that every citizens of Washington State function at their maximum potential. Everyone. We do not have the luxury of having anyone not perform at their maximum.”
Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup
Flexing her political muscles – and making some Seattle leaders very unhappy, Gov. Chris Gregoire has given the Emerald City an ultimatum: agree to a simple $2.8 billion replacement of the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct or the money will go elsewhere*.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has been pushing hard for a $4.6 billion “cut-and-cover” tunnel instead. It would be century-long mistake, he says, to replace the “ugly” concrete elevated highway running along Seattle’s waterfront with…another concrete elevated highway.
Few dispute the need to replace the built-on-fill Viaduct, which is literally crumbling, slowly sinking in places, and thought to be prone to a catastrophic collapse in the region’s next major earthquake.
But the issue, as ever, is how much to spend. Nickels – trying to make the case that the tunnel was do-able — had penciled out a series of federal grants and other dollars for the more-expensive tunnel project. Gregoire last month essentially called that unrealistic.
On Tuesday, according to the Seattle Times, Nickels pitched a smaller, cheaper version of the tunnel to a skeptical Gregoire and legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. No way, Gregoire said.
Nickels says he still wants to do something the governor suggested: hold a city-wide vote and ask Seattle voters if they want the more-expensive project (which would be paid for by people in transportation districts throughout Puget Sound and – via the gas tax – everyone in the state.).
Nickels wants to hold the vote April 24th. But that’s two days after the Legislature is slated to go home. No dice, lawmakers say.
*”Elsewhere”, by the way, is yet another Seattle-area multi-billion dollar transportation project: the SR 520 floating bridge.
Suburban Puget Sound Republicans also want to shift the money to widening congested I-405, which parallels I-5 east of Seattle.
UPDATE: Weighing in this morning were Reps. Helen Sommers and Mary Lou Dickerson, both D-Seattle, who pointed out that Seattle residents approved a 2005 gas tax at least partly out of belief that replacing the Viaduct was a priority, rather than steering that cash to the 520 bridge project.
“Emotions are high right now, but we hope that cooler heads will prevail,” they said in a joint statement. “We will be encouraging the governor to support the rebuild option and hope that the people of Seattle will do likewise.”
In the opening salvo of a statewide fight this year, critics of a two-year-old policy forcing state workers to pay union dues or similar fees are trying to vote themselves out of union representation.
“We believe the unions have literally sold out workers’ rights in order to go from less than $4 million in dues to well over $29 million,” said Dennis Redmon, a state worker leading the “decertification” campaign.
About 65 people — at least a few of them union fans — turned out Tuesday for Redmon’s first meeting. Similar meetings, Redmon said, are being scheduled for Spokane, Colville, Seattle and other cities.
Speaking in front of a large sign marked “forced union dues” with a red slash through it, Redmon urged workers to sign cards calling for a vote on whether their union should represent their bargaining unit. If 30 percent of each unit’s workers send in the cards, he said, it will force a vote.
“I think we will get votes, and I think we will vote them (the unions) out,” he said.
Starting in 2004, a broad list of 2002 civil service reforms allowed state-worker unions to negotiate a “union security clause” into their collective bargaining agreements. For the first time, state workers had to either become a dues-paying member of a union or become a “fee payer” paying slightly less for the costs of negotiating the contract.
Many workers balked at the requirement — particularly since many felt they didn’t get a chance to vote on that provision two years ago.
“All we’re asking for is a vote, so that every employee gets a chance to vote,” said Darrel Mollenhour, a medical treatment adjudicator at the state Department of Labor and Industries.
Since 2004, however, most state workers have opted to join their unions. The Washington Federation of State Employees, for example, represents 38,000 workers, who pay 1.37 percent of salary in dues. Of those, spokesman Tim Welch said, 33,000 chose to be full members. The remaining fee payers pay 1.06 percent of salary.
“He’s not giving the full story,” Welch said of Redmon and his campaign. The union puts its money into looking out for workers’ rights, he said, fighting attempts to contract out their work, representing them in disputes with management and fighting for pay and medical benefits. As a result of a union grievance over health care costs, he said, members will get back a $756 payment July 1st. And before the current two-year contract was negotiated by unions, he said, many state workers hadn’t had a cost-of-living raise in four years.
“They stand to lose an awful lot if they don’t have a contract,” Welch said.
Note: This story, in print, ran with the headline “State workers try to oust unions.” That prompted an e-mail from David Groves, spokesman for the state Labor Council, who pointed out, correctly, that state workers have tried this before without success.
“I would have gone with `Very small group of state employees tries (again) to oust unions’ with a subhead like `They tried before and failed miserably,’” he wrote. “But that’s just me.”
As the Everett Herald‘s Jerry Cornfield and Eric Stevick report this morning, some lawmakers are proposing a broader reprieve for the Class of 2008.
So far, Gov. Gregoire and legislative leaders have proposed delaying for three years next year’s requirement that students pass the math portion of the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning in order to graduate from high school. Passing the reading and writing sections would still be required, however.
But with 13-14 percent of students still not passing the reading or writing sections, some influential lawmakers on education committees, however, are floating a broader reprieve that would include those sections as well. The concern — that large numbers of seniors will be denied diplomas — is similar to one voiced yesterday by Rep. Jim Clements, R-Selah.
“We’ve opened the door,” Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon said, according to the Herald. “Once you open the door you can’t limit the discussion.”
The bill: SB 5130, sponsored by Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle.
How the short title printout and website describe it: “Expanding hunter access to certain private lands.”
What you discover, though, if you actually read the bill: That the bill would expand access and preserve habitat — by tacking a $5 to $25 surcharge onto both small game and big game hunting licenses.
Unfazed by years of talk about how a state income tax is the third rail of Washington politics — touch it and you die – Senate veteran Rosa Franklin has launched Senate Bill 5150, proposing a state income tax starting at 2.2 percent for individuals with a taxable income up to $24,950. (Higher incomes would be taxed at 3.5 percent and 6 percent.)
Franklin, a Tacoma Democrat, also introduced Senate Joint Resolution 8209, which calls for the statewide vote to amend the constitution, something the state’s highest court has said would be necessary for Washington to institute a state income tax.
It’s highly, highly, highly unlikely that the bill – which Franklin is the sole sponsor of – will pass, but may make for an interesting debate, in Olympia and elsewhere. (Within a day, the state Republican Party put out a press release blasting it.)
Democrats have said for years that the state’s sales-tax-heavy tax system is unconscionably burdensome on low-income people, but voters seem very leery of tax reform out of fear that they’d end up paying more than they do now. A months-long, all-star report recommending structural tax changes a couple of years ago landed in the statehouse with a resounding thud.
For obvious PR reasons, it’s hard for elected officials to tell the public that they (and, in fairness, their successors) deserve larger paychecks. Nonetheless, most of those who testified before the salary commission this week ended up – diplomatically — at that conclusion.
One of the exceptions was Gov. Chris Gregoire’s chief of staff, Tom Fitzsimmons. Sent to testify about the governor’s salary on behalf of Gregoire, Fitzsimmons noted how hard the governor works, the job responsibilities, how some of her subordinates are paid more than Gregoire, and so forth.
He went to great lengths, however, to avoid explicitly calling for a higher gubernatorial salary.
Here’s a fairly typical exchange with one of the commissioners, who asked a simple question: If the salaries of elected officials were higher, would the state get higher-caliber people in the Legislature and other posts?
“Not to appear evasive, but I will be evasive,” he said, speaking slowly. “Those are great questions. Just wonderful questions.”
“So what should we do?” the man asked.
“That,” Fitzsimmons responded, “is also a good question.”
What state officials are paid now:
Gov. Chris Gregoire: $150,995
Attorney General Rob McKenna: $137,268
Supreme Court Justices: $145,636
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown: $44,311
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen: $78,930
What some of their peers are paid:
Tacoma City Manager: $189,444
Richland City Manager: $150,756
King County Prosecutor: $168,372
Spokane Mayor: $138,768
Spokane Valley City Manager: $131,844
Spokane Deputy Mayor: $131,652
Olympia City Manager: $126,456
What some non-elected public employees earn:
Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald: $162,560
Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams: $158,000
Office of Financial Management Director Victor Moore: $158,000
Corrections Secretary Harold Clarke: $137,160
Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning: $137,160
Secretary of Health Mary Selecky: $137,160
Source: Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials
With a big assist from Woodinville investor Mike Dunmire, initiative promoter Tim Eyman says he’ll draw a political paycheck this year of $86,742.
On Dec. 12, according to state campaign finance reports, Dunmire and his wife ponied up $100,000, nearly half the $209,000 that supporters contributed to a “compensation fund” for Eyman and his Spokane-based, father-son team of Jack and Mike Fagan. The Fagans, who run the bookeeping and administrative side of the operation, will each get half of what Eyman got, or $43,371 apiece.
Lawmakers, including the Legislature’s five openly-gay legislators, just released the details of bills they plan to introduce on Tuesday.
While conceding that gay marriage seems politically impossible to achieve in the statehouse this year, proponents said that domestic partnerships are only a half-measure, for now.
“People’s hearts and minds are changing on these issues,” said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. (At left in photo.)
“I don’t think it’s going to be a long time” before the state sees same-sex marriage, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle. (At right in photo.) “This is not 1977.”
The bills had been slated to be introduced today, but were delayed for some last-minute changes. Murray said they’ll be introduced Tuesday.
Proponents’ main arguments: that existing law is discriminatory and that strong, stable families with legal protections and the right to make health decisions for each other are good for the state and good for children in those families. As things stand now, they say, many gay- and lesbian partners – no matter how long they’ve been a couple – face the prospect of being shut out of hospital rooms, funeral arrangements or even their own homes if one of the two is hurt or dies.
Interestingly, the domestic partnership would also cover heterosexual couples, provided that at least one of the partners is over age 62. Why? Because many senior women, according to Northwest Women’s Law Center attorney Lisa Stone, can’t afford to remarry after a husband dies, for fear of losing pension or other benefits from that first marriage.
Resistance to the measures will likely be spearheaded in the Senate by Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, who plans to comment on the proposals later today.
The Faith and Freedom Network, a conservative Christian group, is also likely to push hard to kill both proposals.
“Somethings have changed in the past 10 years. Some have not,” Faith and Freedom President Gary Randall wrote to members this morning. “This is a battle we must engage. I believe we can win, but we are surely called to take a stand.”
When new Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, and (at left) Rep. Don Barlow, D-Spokane, were sworn in today, they doubled the number of American Indians in Olympia — and apparently set a record. Kauffman is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe; Barlow’s a member of Oklahoma’s Ottawa Tribe.
Four of Washington’s state lawmakers are tribal members. (The other two are Tulalip tribal member Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville, and Tsimshian member Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes.) According to the Tulalips, who organized a dancing and singing event tonight honoring the four, this is the largest number of Native American lawmakers in state history.
“It’s modern history in the making,” said Theresa Sheldon, a tribal policy analyst who helped organize the event.
Among those on hand in Olympia Monday to watch the new lawmakers sworn in: INDN’s List founder Kalyn Free, whose group — patterned on EMILY’s List — helps tribal members raise money and get elected.
Two years after a burst water pipe saturated state business records, some dating to territorial times, Secretary of State Sam Reed is calling for a $112 million new library and archives center to be built into an Olympia hillside.
For decades, Washington has been storing millions of paper and microfilmed documents in a several-stories-deep underground building that doubled as a bomb shelter a few hundred yards from the state Capitol. But Reed said the complex isn’t up to modern archival standards for temperature, humidity or insect control.
Besides that, he said, it’s full.
“The main problem is that after half a century, we’ve way outgrown the capacity of that building,” he said. State records, books and artifacts are scattered among four locations now, he said, which makes security, preservation and public access difficult.
The state stores a vast array of documents and items, from old real estate maps, the state constitution and court records to a sombrero and bottle of tequila – still full – given as a gift to former Secretary of State Ralph Munro.
Reed’s proposed Washington State Heritage Center would be paid for – over 17 years – by a new $5 fee on incorporation filings and a $2 surcharge on documents filed with county auditors.
Reed pushed hard several years ago to build the state “digital archives,” which opened in 2004 on the Eastern Washington University campus at Cheney. That two-story building holds the paper records of the Eastern Washington Regional Archives and computer systems designed to preserve state and local government data. Many of the records are being put online.
The new building would have 158,000 square feet of space. (A Costco store, by comparison, averages 140,000.) Crews would cut away part of a hillside above Olympia’s Capitol Lake and build a five-story terraced building to follow the hillside’s natural slope. It would be faced with rock quarried from the same site that provided the facades for the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, Reed said.
The 56-degree constant soil temperature of that hillside, Reed said, is a nearly perfect temperature for storing paper records.
For decades, the state library was housed in a building beside the Capitol. But in 2001, earthquake damage drove lawmakers from the statehouse for several years of repairs. The books were moved to a leased $1-million-a-year office building in Tumwater, and the state Senate convened inside the former library, which has now become an office building and cafeteria.
Reed said he hopes to break ground late next year, with the building finished in about three years. Like the digital archives at Cheney, it would be wired to preserve the ever-increasing flow of electronic records produced by state and local governments.