House sustains Quinn’s veto of bill cutting free days at museums: ‘The governor is correct’

SHARE House sustains Quinn’s veto of bill cutting free days at museums: ‘The governor is correct’
SHARE House sustains Quinn’s veto of bill cutting free days at museums: ‘The governor is correct’

SPRINGFIELD-Visitors to museums and aquariums in Chicago and throughout Illinois won a reprieve Wednesday when the state House sustained Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of legislation that would have let the institutions halve the number of days they must offer free admission to users each year.

The legislation, sought some of the state’s financially strapped cultural institutions, would have permitted museums and aquariums to cut the number of free days from 52 to 26 each year.

Citing concern about the impact on low-income residents who might be priced out of a visit to a museum, Quinn vetoed the measure in August even though it had racked up seeming veto-proof majorities when it passed the House and Senate last spring.

Persuasive speeches by several members of the House Legislative Black Caucus and even one of Quinn’s frequent critics, Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), turned the tide in the governor’s favor in a 49-67 victory for him. A successful override in the House would have taken 71 votes.

“It’s always important to ensure that our residents with modest incomes have equal access to our world-class museums and cultural institutions,” Quinn said in a prepared statement after the vote. “I commend members of the House for their vote [Wednesday]. They did the right thing.”

The bill’s chief House sponsor, Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford), urged his colleagues to lower the number of free-admission days to give museums and aquarium the financial wiggle room many of them said they needed.

“Many times, these not-for-profits and museums have to cut back on the services they offer, and I don’t want to see that,” Sosnowski said. “I’d certainly like to see their services enhanced, and I think this is one way to get that done.”

But several black lawmakers from Chicago and the suburbs came to Quinn’s defense.

“The governor is correct,” said Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). “The purpose of a museum is to educate, to provide culture, and when we deny that and limit the access, we really hurt all of us in this state.”

Franks, who has pilloried Quinn on numerous occasions from the House floor, heaped rare praise on the governor for his veto.

“Let’s stick with the governor,” Franks said. “He’s right on this one.”

With Wednesday’s vote, Sosnowski’s legislation is now dead.

The Field Museum, which favored the legislation to help with its financial ills, faces a $170 million shortfall that has led the institution to cut its research budget for next year by 20 percent, reduce its science staff and merge departments.

The museum’s shaky finances are rooted in a decade-old decision to borrow $90 million for construction projects. But a capital campaign to pay off that debt faltered, resulting in decisions to dip into the museum’s endowment and to embark on budget cutting.

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