Rauner: State Museum can reopen, needs partner funding

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday indicated he’s ready to reopen the Illinois State Museum, if the museum system can find some non-state funding.

Rauner, R-Winnetka, also wants to establish entry fees, which he said could be lowered or waived for groups including schoolchildren and the elderly.

The governor’s decision came in an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 317, which would have reopened the museum closed since October.

Rauner said despite the good it does, the museum’s operations aren’t financially sustainable. He said the state invests more than $6 million annually to serve about 200,000 visitors.

As sent to him, the bill was an unfunded mandate he could not sign because of the lack of a balanced budget, Rauner said in his veto message.

“While the state is in the midst of a crisis caused by decades of fiscal mismanagement, as long as this bill fails to offer any plan to help the museum become self-supporting, it is just an empty and broken promise to the taxpayers of Illinois,” Rauner wrote.

Rauner says the museum can resume operations by “partnering it with other public and private entities to make it truly self-supporting and to relieve the fiscal burden to taxpayers.”

The bill, and the governor’s veto, also apply to branch site museums or art galleries at Dickson Mounds, the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, Lockport and Rend Lake.

Rauner last year ordered the sites closed, saying it could save the state nearly $5 million. However, unionized state employees continue to work in the museum system while a lawsuit on their layoffs is pending.

The changes the governor seeks would have to be approved in the General Assembly, which also could attempt to override the veto and make the bill law as it is written.

Overriding the amendatory veto would take a three-fifths vote in both chambers, which means 36 votes in the Senate and 71 in the House. The bill cleared the Senate with 40 votes in the summer and passed the House with 82 votes in the fall.

Officials of the museum and its parent state agency, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, have scheduled a news conference for Monday morning.

A spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said Manar would likely issue a statement early next week.

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