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Plan that could save MAC on hold in committee

OLYMPIA — A plan to rearrange state cultural agencies and find money for Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is on hold today after a House committee couldn’t be sure it had the votes to pass amendments for it.

Rep. Sam Hunt, chairman of the State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, banged his gavel and adjourned the early-morning meeting as soon as legislators returned from a caucus on the bill and others on the panel’s agenda. Among the Democratic members who make up the committee’s majority, there weren’t enough votes to pass the bills.

One of the panel members, Rep. Chris Hurst, was absent because of a death in the family, and another member whom he refused to name was opposed to any bill involving consolidation of state agencies. That left Hunt without the votes needed to pass the bills out of committee if Republican members all voted no.

“We’ll wait until Chris Hurst gets back and see what happens,” Hunt said. “We’ll just come back next week and see what happens.”

The original version of the bill would have consolidated a series of state programs on arts, archeology, historic preservation, archives and the state library into a single “mega-agency”, the Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture. Among them would be the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, which operates the MAC in Browne’s Addition, and the Washington State Historical Society, which operates the State History Museum in Tacoma. As part of the reorganization, money being collected on documents filed with county auditors and set aside for a new Heritage Center in Olympia could be tapped to pay for the two museums, which face substantial cutbacks of state money in the governor’s proposed budget.

The bill, HB 2033, faced significant criticism at a hearing Thursday. This morning, a proposal to trim the bill, and keep many of the programs in their current agencies or departments was introduced, but funding for the two museums remained.

The panel went into caucuses, separate meetings by each party to take the temperature of members on the bills. About 20 minutes later, Hunt came back and announced, “Meeting’s adjourned.”

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said later she supports the consolidation as a way to save money and address the public’s demand to cut costs. Although Friday is a deadline for most bills to get out of committee, this one is exempt because it would be necessary to implement the budget if it is part of the House spending plan expected to be released earlyl next week.

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