Illinois’ Lincoln presidential library made separate agency
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A long-debated plan to wrest the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum free of what critics call a stifling bureaucracy occurred Friday when Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order creating a separate state agency for the once-vaunted showplace.
It began as Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s idea to bolster the facility’s impact and update tourist-worn exhibits three years ago, then became a subject of bogged-down negotiations between Madigan and a newly inaugurated Rauner a year later. It culminated with a stroke of the executive pen in a rare if unintended moment of agreement between the feuding political powers.
“We have made government transformation a priority in order to deliver the best services to taxpayers at the best value,” Rauner said in a statement. “We owe it to our citizens to be good stewards of the state’s resources, and these changes will deliver on that promise.”
The order dissolves the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which had oversight of the library and museum. The Department of Natural Resources will absorb its remaining functions. It’s expected to save $3.2 million a year — 40 percent less than the estimated savings when Rauner promoted the plan just two years ago.
In a separate order signed Friday, Rauner combined the Human Rights Commission with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, promising that it will speed up resolution of discrimination complaints.
The $115 million library and museum, financed heavily with federal earmarks and christened in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush, was lauded as a crowning tribute to Illinois’ adopted son, Lincoln, the 16th president. It drew its 4 millionth visitor in February.
But the state’s constant budget struggles, even predating the current two-year stalemate on an annual spending plan largely viewed as a Rauner-Madigan showdown, has left its exhibits unchanged and some of its technological wizardry dated —although the trove of Lincoln documents it holds lures researchers worldwide.
Critics such as Madigan have blamed shortcomings on red tape produced by the Historic Preservation Agency, administrator of 29 other historic sites and numerous memorials that drew 1.6 million visitors in 2016. If the library and museum stood alone, they say, it would be able to move more quickly in hiring experts and act with the necessary rapidity to snare historic collections up for sale.
“The museum is a great asset to the state of Illinois and is kind of buried as a division within an agency,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Friday. “It will flourish as a stand-alone agency.”
The extrication has also been sold as a money saver during the nation’s longest budget standoff since World War II. Government continues to operate because of court orders and patchwork appropriations. State records indicate the Historic Preservation Agency budget to be roughly $22 million, with about $12 million dedicated to the Lincoln library and museum.
When Rauner proposed in 2015 that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s tourism division take over the remaining historic preservation functions, his office estimated an annual savings of $5.7 million. A year later, Rauner’s proposed budget estimated the transfer to DCEO would save $4.5 million. In the governor’s proposed budget for the year that begins July 1, the merger with Natural Resources would save $3.2 million.
Madigan proposed the idea in May 2014. Critics said he was doing a favor for the landlord of his state office in Chicago and the landlord’s friend, Eileen Mackevich, then the library and museum director. But Madigan said neither had lobbied him. Mackevich resigned in late 2015.
Madigan, at the dawn of tense budget negotiations with newcomer Rauner in the spring of 2015, resurrected the library and museum separation. Rauner and he discussed a trade: Madigan’s separate Lincoln agency for a privatized commerce department for Rauner. But talks broke down and neither happened.
Current Madigan legislation to separate the museum has moved to the House floor. Brown said the speaker’s staff has worked with Rauner’s on the executive order language. Madigan will continue to push the legislation so the breakup has the force of law.
Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis downplayed a connection between Rauner’s action and Madigan’s wishes. She said it is standard practice for a governor to consult legislative leaders before penning executive orders that reorganize government.