Rauner: Illinois State Museum may open with its own funding

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner rejected legislation Friday to reopen the Illinois State Museum, using his veto power to say the 138-year-old facility and its satellite locations may operate again only if the museum can find its own funding through entry fees, donations and partnerships.

In a letter to lawmakers, the Republican governor said he supports "the good the museum does," but that it's not financially sustainable. He noted the state spends more than $6 million per year on the site, which has about 200,000 annual visitors.

"I propose not merely re-opening the Museum while continuing its status quo, but re-energizing its operations and partnering it with other public and private entities to make it truly self-supporting and to relieve the fiscal burden to taxpayers," Rauner wrote.

But the chairman of the museum's board of directors said raising about $6 million per year would be an almost impossible task.

"If this goes through I don't see the time when the museum is reopened," Guerry Suggs said. "That's an awfully tall order."

The Republican governor closed the museum, the Dickson Mounds archaeological site in Lewistown and art galleries in Chicago, Lockport and Whittington in October as a way to manage funds during a stalemate with the Democrat-controlled Legislature over the state budget.

Rauner's administration originally sent layoff notices to about 100 employees at the museum sites and at a shooting complex in Southern Illinois that he also closed.

But state-worker unions sued, saying the move violated their contracts with the state. Rauner then agreed to postpone the layoffs, instead assigning most employees to other duties while the facilities remain closed.

Lawmakers in December passed legislation with bipartisan support to reopen the facilities.

In addition to asking that the museum be financially self-sustaining, Rauner changed the bill to allow the Department of Natural Resources to determine the location of branch sites, in collaboration with local governments and other public and private groups.

The Legislature must vote to approve Rauner's changes. Lawmakers also could choose to try to override the governor, which would require the support of three-fifth of both chambers - a threshold legislators exceeded when they first approved the measure.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar, didn't immediately return a phone message Friday.

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