Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is the End Near for IHPA?

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announce plans to merge the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency into the Department of Natural Resources during his first budget address to lawmakers.

The move isn't surprising. I told a staffer in the then-Lt. Governor's office that I didn't expect IHPA to survive intact. The agency's Historic Sites Division has lost 60 percent of their staffing since 2000. Even if Quinn restores the cuts made by Gov. Blagojevich last fall, that means there's a 40 percent cut in staff.

While many people feel state government is bloated, I can assure you that IHPA is not the agency where you are going to find a lot of fat. That's been trimmed along with a lot of muscle.

Even with a restoration of recent cutbacks which would reopen the French Colonial sites in Randolph County there's still seven IHPA-owned sites in southeastern Illinois from Lawrenceville down to Golconda that don't have any staff.

Even if all of the late Ryan-era retirements and the Blagojevich-era cuts were restored, there would be just one state employee for those seven sites.

IHPA's heyday occurred during the Thompson Administration when it was spun off from state parks in the Department of Conservation. During the 1990-91 recession Jim Edgar had to slash state spending and IHPA took hits from which to this day they have never recovered.

Historic sites are forgotten assets that need to remembered. I don't see Quinn's move as good or bad for the agency, just expected. What comes next is what will really be important.