Gov. Rod Blagojevich's recent round of budget cuts eliminated $3 million in funds for museums, parks and zoos. In Peoria, that means thousands of dollars will be cut to the local zoo and museum group at a time when both entities are moving ahead with expansions. Officials are evaluating how the cuts might impact them.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s recent budget cuts means less money will go to the area’s museums, parks and zoos next year.
"Right now, what I’m doing is assessing what my options are," Lakeview President Jim Richerson said. "I’m stunned at what the governor calls pork."
Roughly $3 million in funds for museums, park districts and zoos was erased from the state budget when the governor used his veto powers to cut $463 million in spending. In Peoria, that amounts to about $75,000, according to Peoria Park District Director of Marketing Cyndy McKone.
"The governor, for whatever reason, decided he had to cut that money for his purposes. I don’t recall this money ever being touched before, but this governor has taken a unique approach to things," said Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. "Everyday you’re seeing different groups who are talking about the impact of (Blagojevich’s) actions and what it’s going to do to them."
The funding dates back to a deal cut to expand gambling in the 1980s, when a portion of the resulting off-track betting (OTB) funds were funneled to such programs. Peoria lost those funds along with its OTB for several years, but they were restored in 2005.
In recent years, revenues generated by OTB facilities haven’t kept up, said Justin DeJong, from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
"Funding has been subsidized by the state’s operating budget, which is clearly not as had been intended," DeJong said. "These were not all easy decisions, but we believe we ended up with a budget that better reflects the needs and values of the people of our state."
McKone said the park district received $74,783 in each of the last three years. The district administers those funds, which are distributed by the Department of Natural Resources.
The park district keeps half to share with the zoo, Forest Park Nature Center and Luthy Botanical Garden. The rest is split between Lakeview Museum and the African American Hall of Fame.
She was not sure what percentage of those three program budgets will be lost with the OTB cut, but said that money makes up 8-½ percent of the tax-supported portion of the district’s museum fund. The park district budget lists the 2007 total for the museum fund at $1.2 million. And there are multi-million-dollar campaigns underway for the Peoria Zoo at Glen Oak and a downtown museum.
"Of course, it’s the worst possible time for the zoo and Lakeview," she said.
Richerson said the roughly $30,000 in OTB funds doesn’t look like a lot compared to Lakeview Museum’s $1.6 million annual budget. But people believed gambling money would be used for education and the museum has tried to honor that belief.
For example, Peoria School District 150 students visit the Lakeview Planetarium, which is underwritten with this money. And while most of the students in the 22-county area may never get to the museum, they can take advantage of the Picture Person program and "archaeology to zoology" educational kits — for free.
"If they’re going to yank the funding, what do we do?" Richerson said. "What happens if we don’t offer these services? Who’s going to do that?"
In addition, the museum has been informed of more cuts.
A 30 percent budget cut for the IAC translates to another $15,000 out of Lakeview’s coffers.
Lawmakers still could vote to override some or all of his cuts, although that seems unlikely unless Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, backs off his pledge not to seek it. Senators were told not to return until the Oct. 22 veto session, which could leave agencies who rely on that money and are trying to craft their budgets pinched.
"We’re all in various stages of doing budgets. What kind of heads-up did we get?" Richerson said. "I look at what’s happening to my energy costs, my health care costs. Where is that supposed to come from?"
Terry Bibo can be reached at email@example.com or (309) 686-3189. Karen McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (309) 686-3285.