In his first months on the job, Gov. Bruce Rauner presided over a ceremony to name the Illinois State Museum building for the late U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon, and he's also proposed closing the museum. A “facility closure hearing” convened by a legislative panel drew a roomful to the Capitol Monday.
The museum – which specializes in the natural history of Illinois and whose main building is near the Capitol -- has satellite facilities in such places as Lockport and Lewistown, also targeted.
“The definition of reform is to make changes in something in order to improve it,” said Patrick O'Brian, a Fulton County board member who chairs the board's Economic and Tourism Committee. “I don't see that there is any reform going on here with this closure.”
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Department of Natural Resources director Wayne Rosenthal, in the position of defending the administration's decision, says DNR has been cut so severely over the years that the museum is about the only place remaining to cut: “If you look at what the museum's cost to us is: at one time it was four percent of our overall budget, and, right now, it's 16.1 percent. We've taken cuts across the board everywhere else the last ten to twelve years.”
Shuttering the more than century-old organization is difficult to champion. While State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said the era of unlimited dollars is over, State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) dismissed the closure plan as short-sighted and uncreative, and State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) called it part of the administration's budget “circus.”
The recommendation of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, yet to be issued, will be non-binding.