Amid years of continued spending cuts, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said Monday that he will keep working to shrink the footprint of state-run museums, returning smaller facilities to local community management.
The secretary of state once managed 18 museums scattered around Louisiana. Schedler now oversees 14, including the historic Old State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge, the Delta Music Museum in Ferriday and the Eddie G. Robinson Museum at Grambling State University.
Schedler told lawmakers that the budget proposal Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to unveil Tuesday for the fiscal year beginning July 1 would give him about $2.9 million for museums next year, down from about $4.5 million several years ago. He said that won’t be enough money to run everything still under his control.
Schedler said he is working to return up to five more museums — including military museums in Ruston and Abbeville and a water works museum in Shreveport — to local agencies. He said the governor’s budget proposal would give him enough money to continue managing the rest.
“In order to save the museums, we’ve been reverting them back to local entities,” Schedler told a House budget subcommittee. “I can probably reduce this down another four or five museums without closing any of them.”
Of the museums already transferred — and the additional museums proposed for return to local control — Schedler looks for local government agencies, nonprofits or a museum’s “friends group” to take over operations.
The secretary of state is Louisiana’s chief elections official. In addition, he oversees the archiving of state records and business registrations. The museums division is one of the only areas of his budget without protected funds, so cuts usually hit the museums.
The situation is better than expected, however.
Schedler once worried budget cuts would force him to end state oversight of more than a dozen museums, with his office proposed to receive as little as $1.5 million to run the facilities next year. The Old State Capitol alone costs $1.4 million to operate.
In response to the worst-case scenario, Schedler asked lawmakers to introduce a package of bills that would shed every museum except the Old State Capitol.
But the secretary of state said he’ll only seek to move a few bills if the budget for museums stays at the $2.9 million he expects Edwards to propose in his recommended spending plan for next year.
It’s “a lot brighter picture on museums than we had 30 days ago,” Schedler said. “If this sticks, we can make this work.”
Among the museums already returned to local control are the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe and the Garyville Timber Museum.
During debate on one proposal, Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, worried that local communities won’t have enough money to keep running the museums themselves.
“I hate to see us lose any museums,” he said.