No shabby desk for Washington State Governor Gregoire – despite lean state coffer

Olympian article by Brad Shannon: Gregoire’s conference table refinished for $5,000 in taxpayer funds

OLYMPIA, Wash. —
Washington is struggling to make ends meet during a tough economic time, but that hasn’t halted repairs on historic pieces of furniture at the state Capitol.

The latest is a $10,000 refinishing of the conference table used by Gov. Chris Gregoire in her reception room for bill signings and news conferences.

The repair has raised a few eyebrows because of its timing and the use of taxpayer money for half of the cost.

The top House budget writer, Democratic Rep. Kelli Linville of Bellingham, said the table expenditure is unnecessary at a time when she and other lawmakers closed about $12 billion in budget shortfalls over two years by cutting more than $4 billion in programs and personnel, using reserves and federal aid and raising taxes by upward of $800 million.

She acknowledged the cost is not huge but said the fact that it is being paid by taxpayer dollars is “symptomatic” of challenges lawmakers face in setting budget priorities.

But the work itself drew praise Thursday morning as the 16-foot-long table was returned to its traditional place in the Legislative Building, lugged in piece by piece by six men.

“It looks terrific. I’m so pleased,” said Justice Gerry Alexander of the state Supreme Court, the co-chairman of the Capitol Furnishings and Preservation Committee, which raised money privately for half of the cost.

“It’s stunning. It’s beautiful,” added Marygrace Jennings, who oversees historic preservation work for the Department of General Administration, the agency that ordered the repairs.

The table has been used by 13 governors since 1928, starting with Roland H. Hartley, a Republican who served during 1925-33. Thousands of bills have been signed into law at the table, which also served as the setting for governors’ Cabinet meetings and news conferences.

Alexander said the table was his group’s top priority for repairs this year. It needed extensive reworking, including replacement of its walnut veneer.

“That furniture in the governor’s office has really gotten shabby… I think we as elected state officials have a stewardship responsibility to take care of the furnishings that were in those historic buildings. We are sensitive to the fact the state is on lower rations right now. But we were prepared to pick up the tab on this entirely,” Alexander said in a recent interview.

An Olympia firm, Nelson Furniture Works, was selected for the work based on its work restoring historic tables at the Temple of Justice and furniture in other Capitol Campus offices. The job required replacement of a walnut veneer and hand sanding of the more than 80-year-old table, which has hand-carved pedestals that feature lion’s paws, and hand-carved panels and spindles in its base.

GA offered to pay half because Alexander’s committee lacked funds to also restore about 20 leather-topped chairs that go with the table in the conference room. Jennings said the state typically splits costs with the committee for restored furnishings.

“I guess this is one of those cases where we are damned if we don’t and damned if we do. We decided that we had to take care of … refurbishing the table now. It’s part of preserving the history of the state Capitol,” GA spokesman Steve Valandra said by e-mail.

Valandra added that the chair work has been postponed indefinitely because of budget concerns.

Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford, a history buff from Sunnyside who serves on Alexander’s furnishings committee, said the work is worth doing, but he thinks it should have been paid – as the committee originally planned – with private funds.

Gregoire spokeswoman Cory Curtis said the governor’s office had no comment about the work.

The restorer, Paul Nelson, said the table is historic and irreplaceable – perhaps requiring $100,000 to replicate, if it could be replaced. The table has hand-carved features and was made by the W. & J. Sloane Co. and cost about $1,500 when new, according to GA.