The doors to the Vandalia Statehouse will be closed to tourists in a month.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency confirmed early Friday morning that the Statehouse is one of 12 state historic sites that are being closed as part of massive cuts implemented by the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The cutbacks include laying off 450 state workers, closing two dozen state parks and cutbacks in the state departments of Children and Family Services, Natural Resources and Human Services.
‘It was a difficult decision’ to close historic sites such as the Vandalia Statehouse, said Dave Blanchette, spokesperson for the IHPA.
‘Our budget for historic sites was cut in half, and we had to decide what actions to take as a result of that,’ Blanchette said.
On how the agency decided which sites to close, he said, ‘The main criteria was public visitation (attendance figures).’
In addition to closing the Statehouse, the state has cut the staff from two to one. Site Superintendent Mary Cole will remain on the job.
‘We will have one person at each site (that is being closed), for security and maintenance,’ Blanchette said.
The agency plans to open the closed sites for special events. Blanchette said on Friday that the agency hopes to have the Statehouse open for the Christmas Open House in December and the Grande Leve next June, ‘but there have been no final determinations for anything after Nov. 1.’
State Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) is upset – to put it mildly – about this latest round of cuts.
‘I’m just furious,’ Watson said. ‘I don’t know what this is about, whether they’re setting us up for a tax increase in November, or what.’
Tourism is the No. 2 industry in the state, second only to agriculture, Watson said, and with these cuts, ‘the impact is not only at the state level, but to local communities, to their tourism budgets and to their ability to attract tourists to their towns.
‘What’s the most outrageous thing about this is that we are going into the bicentennial of the birth of the greatest president in history, and we’re making these cuts to our state’s Abraham Lincoln sites,’ he said.
‘This is going right to the pulse of the people of Illinois,’ Watson said. ‘We’re closing historic sites and state parks, which create revenue for the state. We’re taking away what’s important to the people of this state, and to people in other states.’
‘This is not the way to address problems with the budget,’ he said.
‘The governor deserves the (poor) approval ratings that he has, for things like this,’ Watson said.
The money could be found to reverse this action, but that’s only through supplemental appropriations in November, but that’s not likely to happen, since the three individuals in power are Blagojevich, Senate President Emil Jones and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.