Official: State museum could reopen in weeks

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois State Museum could reopen in a matter of weeks if the General Assembly approves changes sought by Gov. Bruce Rauner, according to a state agency director.

Essentially, the Republican governor wants the museum system to decrease its reliance on tax funds by allowing it to charge entrance fees and by allowing partnerships with other entities, private and public.

The governor’s proposals came last week in an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 317, which would reopen the museum sites that have been closed since October.

Wayne Rosenthal, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and a Rauner appointee, spoke to reporters Monday. He said given the General Assembly’s approval, the museum is ready to implement fees and ramp up private fundraising.

IDNR is the museum’s parent agency.

Additionally, Rosenthal said, IDNR and the state museum are planning changes to bring an estimated $1 million annual savings. Those changes include:

  • Closing the Illinois State Museum Gallery at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.
  • Closing the Southern Illinois Art and Artisans Center at Rend Lake.
  • Combining or reorganizing some human resources, accounting and management functions within the museum system and IDNR.

The time frame for reopening will depend on the General Assembly’s acting on the governor’s amendatory veto of SB Bill 317, Rosenthal said.

“If the General Assembly acts quickly on the governor’s amendatory veto, we believe we could reopen the museum in a matter of weeks,” he said.

“The museum will not be self-supporting, but with these change we’ll be able to contribute more to the operations and reduce its dependence on general revenue funds and become more sustainable,” Rosenthal said.

The outline announced Monday does not mean an end to state funding for the museum and two other related facilities — the Dickson Mounds State Museum and the Lockport Gallery — but a lesser reliance on state money, Rosenthal said.

Sponsorships, including corporate ones, are a possibility, he said, but he also said the museum would remain under control of the Department of Natural Resources.

Illinois News Network’s efforts to reach bill sponsor Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, on Monday were not successful. He was quoted in the (Springfield) State Journal Register as saying he was still reviewing the governor’s proposed changes to the legislation.

The changes the governor seeks would have to be approved in the General Assembly by a simple majority in each chamber.

The Legislature also could attempt to override the veto and make the bill law as it is written. That would take 36 votes in the Senate and 71 in the House. Should either chamber simply decline to address the amendatory veto, the bill would die.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, on Monday said he supported Senate Bill 317 because it made operation of the state museum part of Illinois law, but he also supports the governor’s revisions because they provide a path forward.

“I believe this is a reasonable, actionable step forward in reopening the museum,” Butler said.

Butler suggested a $5 entrance fee for adults might be appropriate. Rauner, in his veto message, suggested entrance fees might be waivable for some groups, such as schoolchildren and seniors.

If the General Assembly overrides or fails to take up the governor’s amendatory veto, it won’t mean permanent closure of the museum, Rosenthal said.

“No it will just be in a different form,” he said.

Rauner last year ordered the state museum 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.

Democrats have argued closing the museums wasn’t necessary, saying the governor and the agencies he controls could have come forward with the fees and private funding initiatives before locking the museums’ doors.

In his veto message, 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.

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