Union workers at the Illinois State Museum, closed to the public since Oct. 1 due to state budget issues, handle curatorial work and other duties, while about two-thirds of management of the museum have retired or found other work.
“The curatorial work has to be done every day, and without the public being there, that left more time for some of these things,” said Guerry Suggs, chairman of the board of the State Museum of the Illinois. “These employees who have dealt with the public are doing all they can. There is productive work to be done.
The State Museum has approximately 13.5 million objects in its collection.
Without a state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration estimated it could save $ 4.8 million by shutting down the state museum and branch sites of Dickson Mounds, Lockport, Rend Lake and the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.
But a lawsuit filed in St. Clair County by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees has at least temporarily halted the layoffs of about 150 people employed at the museum and other agencies in the l ‘State. Rauner ordered employees to continue to report to work, but closed the museum and related sites to the public.
However, the administration continued with layoffs for the museum’s management team, made up of 10 to 12 members.
The Illinois Senate passed a bill in August to keep the museum open, and the House passed it last month. The bill states that Illinois will operate a system of state museums at its current sites and that the sites should be open to the public. It also requires the state to operate a research and collections center in Springfield and to maintain access to those collections.
Suggs said the bill was handed over to Rauner on December 9, and the governor had 60 days from that date to sign the bill, veto it or do nothing, after which it would become law. The legislature passed the bill with more than enough votes to override a veto.
Suggs said he believes that even if the governor signs the bill – it is currently “under advisement” – it will amount to nothing more than an unfunded tenure. He thinks it’s a long shot that the museum would reopen without a new budget.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which manages the museum system, is also hoping for action on the budget front.
“We’re still waiting for a budget to see what resources are available,” DNR spokesman Chris Young said.
Suggs said he believes the bill, if it becomes law, will help the museum in the future.
“Governors would be less likely to close the museum because the bill would give us the same status as the state fair,” he said.
If the museum reopens, Suggs said only three or four members of the management team, who ceased to be paid when the museum closed, would be available for recall. The rest have retired or taken other jobs, he said.
– Contact Chris Dettro: [email protected], 788-1510, twitter.com/ChrisDettroSJR.