SPRINGFIELD – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum could “chart its own destiny” by becoming a separate state agency under a plan the Illinois House approved Tuesday.
The proposal by House Speaker Michael Madigan moves to the Senate – with just three days left in the legislative session – after House endorsement on a vote of 84-29.
The initiative to split the world-renowned institution from oversight by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency came a day after the Democratic speaker from Chicago denied that his friendship with the institution’s executive director plays a role in his effort.
Instead, Madigan and Steven Beckett, the chairman of the institution’s advisory board, say the library and museum is hamstrung in areas such as hiring experts and deciding themes and exhibits because it needs approval from the Historic Preservation Agency, which has a different mission.
“My goal is to put this institution in a position to chart its own destiny, not to have to check in with another board,” Madigan said.
As the House moved forward with a less ambitious state budget plan because it couldn’t gather support for extending a temporary income tax increase beyond January, the preservation agency came out on the short end. One of the House-approved pieces of budget legislation would cut the agency’s budget by $883,000.
Spokesman Steve Brown said the cut was not connected to any Madigan dissatisfaction with the preservation agency, but that many state agencies must weather spending cuts.
The Historic Preservation Agency estimated that separating the library and museum would cost $1.9 million a year, plus a one-time cost of $500,000 for the library and museum to buy its own technology. Madigan disputed the figure and said there would be no changeover cost.
The advisory board would become the library and museum’s governing board and take away from the governor the authority to name the executive director, although the governor would appoint board members, similar to the way he does for the State Board of Elections and State Board of Education, Madigan said.
On Monday, Madigan confirmed to reporters that he is a friend of library and museum director Eileen Mackevich and her longtime friend Stanley Balzekas, the landlord for Madigan’s state office in Chicago. Balzekas founded and operates the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in the same building.
But Madigan said neither has lobbied him about the change.
Mackevich told the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday that the library and museum would be stronger as a stand-alone agency.
“It’s a good idea if it’s possible and works for everybody,” Mackevich said.
She said she has no personality clash with Historic Preservation Agency director Amy Martin, although Madigan acknowledged there are conflicts between the two boards because of differing missions and priorities.
The library and museum and Historic Preservation Agency have been criticized as targets for political patronage under former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.
Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, questioned the need to put the library and museum – “a jewel in our crown” – into the realm of independent agencies with regulatory power, such as the Illinois Commerce Commission or Illinois Liquor Control Commission.