Thursday, February 19, 2004

Governor's Budget
The governor's new budget doesn't include a dime for the Old Slave House — not that anybody actually thought that it would. With the state facing a $1.7 billion budget deficit most state agencies are seeing cuts.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency will see a $300,000 budget cut and most new spending for the agency will be to fill 71 positions in the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum up in Springfield. Even that is less than the agency wanted. In the Historic Sites Division the proposed budget doesn't even include enough funds to cover the pay raises already approved in the union contract, according to Dave Blanchett, public information officer for the agency.

In Gallatin County once again, the Shawneetown Bank will remain closed for the 59th year under state ownership. Also, for the second year in a row there will be no permanent staff at the site. Although the agency requested around $200,000, possibly as much as $215,000, to staff (but not necessarily open) the Old Slave House, the governor's budget office rejected the request.

Although the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will also be hit hard in the budget, it's not as bad as it seems. Blagojevich proposed a one-time "holiday" for the Open Lands grant program, but suggested an additional $3.6 million in new funding for staffing at a number of state sites that were either major new acquisitions or had new interpretive centers.

If approved that would mean the Cache River Wetlands Center near Belknap would finally open. Gov. Jim Edgar broke ground on the building during the last year of his administration. Besides serving as an interpretive center for the Cache River Wetlands, it would also become an endpoint on the Tunnel Hill State Trail.

Depending on the status of the mine reclamation at Saraha Woods in Saline County, that site, one of the major acquisitions/donations under Gov. George Ryan, could also open for the first time, according to DNR spokesman Tim Schweizer.

What that means for the Old Slave House is simple. Nothing has changed, and we're the only ones with a viable plan to get it opened.