SPRINGFIELD – A panel of lawmakers sent a message to Gov. Bruce Rauner Wednesday: Don't close the Illinois State Museum in Springfield or the Hardin County work camp in southern Illinois.

On two 7-2 votes, members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability recommended the two facilities, as well as satellite operations of the museum in Whittington, Lewistown, Chicago and Lockport, stay open.

Three Republicans on the panel bucked the Republican governor's plan to shutter the facilities, including state Reps. Don Moffitt of Gilson, Raymond Poe of Springfield and Mike Unes of East Peoria.

Moffitt said the museum should find ways to generate revenue during tough budget times.

"I think we need to look at a modest fee for those attending," Moffitt said.

State Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, also came to the defense of the 280-inmate work camp, which employs 60 workers north of Cave-In-Rock.

"The Hardin work camp also has an intrinsic value," Trotter said.

The advisory vote came a day after the Illinois Senate passed a measure requiring the state to keep the museum sites open.

Rauner proposed closing the sites in July as part of the ongoing budget impasse, triggering a review process by the legislative commission because each facility employs a large number of state workers.

In arguing in favor of the closure of the 35-year-old work camp, the Illinois Department of Corrections said each of the employees would be able to transfer to nearby prisons.

Closing the camp is estimated to save $1 million. The state also would be able to avoid having to spend as much as $9.8 million in upgrades.

But, said state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, the camp is an important part of the southern Illinois economy.

"The last governor came along and closed the prison at Tamms and a youth prison in Murphysboro. Now this governor wants to close the work camp and another juvenile detention center in Benton. What else can they do to my district?" Forby said.

"When the prison opened 30 some years ago, nobody up north wanted it. We decided we wanted it. We'd take the jobs. We don't have factories," Forby said.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he was pleased with the vote on the museum. But, he said the loss of tourism spending in the community, the cost of closing the 138-year-old facility and the potential for lawsuits surrounding the closure could come back to haunt Rauner.

"I think at the end of the day closing the state museum is going to be a money loser for the state," Butler said. "I think its going to be a real problem for us."

Butler agrees with Moffitt that the museum should consider charging a fee to help offset the $4.8 million cost to operate the facility.

Rauner signaled Tuesday that he's moving forward with the closures regardless of the commission's vote when his administration issued layoff notices for workers at the museum.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

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Springfield Bureau Chief for the Herald & Review

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