Heritage Center important project, but not vital

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Building the Washington State Heritage Center on the Capitol grounds in Olympia is a fantastic concept now, just as it was 30 years ago when legislators first discussed such a facility.

The Heritage Center would benefit citizens as archived material, the state library and historical artifacts — now stored around the state like eggs on Easter — could be stored at one location.

Unfortunately, Washington state simply can’t afford this project right now.

State tax collections are still weak, which means lawmakers need to trim about $1 billion from budget requests. In addition, the state Supreme Court has ruled Washington is not meeting its obligation to fully fund basic education. The justices want to see the state start ramping up its spending on schools — the goal is to invest an additional $1.4 billion in education.

The $150 million price tag for the Heritage Center isn’t overwhelming when considering the state will spend about $30 billion over the next two years on running the government.

Nevertheless, the spending cuts over the past four years have eliminated easy, big money targets to find savings.

This year every $1 million really means something.

Newly elected Secretary of State Kim Wyman believes the Legislature should act now to get this project back on track.

“I really think it’s important when the kids get off the bus, or when a family comes over here from Spokane, they have that opportunity to touch and feel our state’s history and that legacy,” Wyman said. We agree it is important, but it’s not a necessity.

The Heritage Center project won’t be the only “important” proposal lawmakers will be asked to fund but won’t. A lot of folks are going to leave Olympia disappointed.

But someday this project should — and can — be completed if lawmakers can do a better job of stashing away some cash specifically for this project when the economic situation isn’t so grim. And when they do, that money should only be used for that project.

In 2007, legislators approved the center at the urging of then-Secretary of State Sam Reed with the idea cash was to be raised through bonds and private donations.

An architect had almost completed plans for the structure in 2008, but the Legislature put the project on hold in 2009 while transfering the money to the fund that pays for most of state government operations, said David Ammons, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

The Heritage Center project, with its positive impact on the entire state, should be near the top of the list of special projects.

But now is not the time to fund it.

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