Friday, May 28, 2004

Keep Your Fingers Crossed
The Illinois General Assembly is still in session, and while that's sometime dangerous for the rest of the state's population, they're hoping to pass next year's budget soon.

If you're in Illinois and have been following the news you already know that it's not going well this spring in terms of the budget talks. I was in Springfield yesterday for a presentation and drifted over to the Statehouse afterwards to check in with various lawmakers to see if anything good might happen for the Old Slave House. Surprisingly, there just might be something.

Local state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, has been talking with the governor and his staff about the house and some type of appropriation this year. He wouldn't tell me that he had made it yet, but was supposed to meet with the governor later that afternoon. (At the time of our conversation outside the doors of the House chamber the governor was supposedly meeting with the four legislative leaders about the budget.)

Assistant House Majority Leader Lou Jones, D-Chicago, one of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus who visited the house back in 1997 on a trip organized by Brandon's uncle, then-state Rep. David Phelps, had been told about the possible money and was using (or was going to use) her own influence with House Speaker Michael Madigan to try to get some funding if the governor didn't come through.

One of the problems now is that some are saying the governor's budget is dead in the House as Madigan is working on his own budget bill to pass. It's possible that even if money is added in one version of the budget it may not survive into the other version. Still, state Sen. Donne E. Trotter, D-Chicago, chairman of one of the Senate's appropriation committees as well as chairman of the Black Caucus, told me that if Phelps had received assurances either the governor or Madigan that the funding would likely stay into the final version, though it may be taken from another part of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's budget.

One hint of that is while the governor wanted 72 new positions for the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum set to open later this year, Madigan's proposal floating around doesn't provide for them, or at least not that many.

While I support the presidential museum I'm upset that there's an effort to add 72 new positions in the research side of IHPA when the Historic Sites side has lost some 49 positions (about one-third of its staff) in the past two years. Plus, those losses don't include the long-lost positions that have remained vacant since the 1991 round of budget cuts. This includes the second position at the Shawneetown Bank. The first was lost two years ago and now there are none. In addition, the loss of staff doesn't even begin to address the sites, whether long-held or newly-acquired, like the Old Slave House that have never seen any staff.

Lawmakers are expected to pass a budget anytime from a matter of days to weeks. Depending on who I talked with the money could either go to IHPA for staffing or for a capital project such as the historic structure survey they want completed before they do anything. Either way I stressed the need to get the site reopened. Keep your fingers crossed. Something good may happen yet.

National Park Service
I met with two representatives of the National Park Service earlier Thursday at the Springfield office of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus whose district stretches far enough south to include the Old Slave House. We covered a wide range of possibilities for the site, but the first thing planned is to try to add it to NPS's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

There's no money or federal control that is associated with it (at least not at this stage), but it's at least a step forward. Nomination papers must be filed by mid July, which shouldn't be a problem.

I'll have more on this as it progresses as well as post a copy of the application on this site when it's finished.