Connecticut Slashes Spending on History





Dr. Bruce Craig is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History (nccph.org).

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Craig's weekly newsletter:

CONNECTICUT HISTORICAL COMMISSION FUNDING SLASHED

Following up on a recent posting ("Tennessee May Zero Out SHPO" in NCC WASHINGTON UPDATE, Vol. 8, #27, July 3, 2002), it seems that Tennessee is not the only state to have problems funding its history and preservation offices. We have heard of similar budget problems in New York, Massachusetts, and other states. Now we learn that the Republican governor and Democratic controlled state legislature in Connecticut have slashed funding for the Connecticut Historical Commission by 44 percent -- from $1.2 million to $677,000.

The Hartford Courant reports that"no one bothered to tell the commission, which found out about the drastic cut through a newspaper story." According to Executive Director John W. Shannahan, the state's action forces him to either lay off nearly half his staff or close some if not all of the six historic sites operated by the commission. The commission plans to hold a special meeting this week to decide whether to slash its staff of 19 full-time and eight part-time employees, close the museums, or adopt a combination of those two actions.

But it gets worse. Since its creation in 1955, the Historical Commission has operated as an independent agency charged to identify, register, and protect the state's historic, archaeological and architectural resources under both state and federal law. Now, in addition to the budget cut, the state legislature has recommended saving money by merging the Historical Commission with another agency such as the Connecticut Commission on the Arts or the Department of Environmental Protection. According to informed sources, the merger with the Arts groups seems the more likely proposition. When contacted by the NCC, a spokesperson for the governor stated the merger was still merely being"explored" and that it was still unclear how the government will deal with the legislature's proposal.

While the state legislature is facing tough decisions this year to close a budget gap of more than $850 million caused by tax shortfalls and reductions in capitol gains revenue, critics note that the Historical Commission is taking a disproportionate hit in the statewide cut. No other agency is proposed to lose half its funding. Critics also note that the disproportionate budget cut (one local paper characterized it as"a hatchet job") is especially shortsighted because a significant large part of Connecticut's income comes from tourists visiting historical and heritage areas that the commission is working to preserve. Moreover, Congress is considering a study of whether Hartford's famed Coltsville area should become a unit of the National Park Service (see"Legislative Update...Coltsville Study Act" in NCC WASHINGTON UPDATE, Vol 8, #26, 2002). Once that legislation is enacted, the commission is expected to play an important role.

There is one glimmer of hope. While the budget cut was adopted on June 30 and now is in effect, the state legislature still has to act on the proposed merger and pass a budget"implementation bill" during a special legislative session slotted to take place in late August or early September. At that time the governor and legislature could opt to restore the Historical Commission's funding and drop the idea for a proposed merger. To this end, there is an opportunity to recoup at least some of the Historical Commission's budget.


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Stephen P. McGrath - 8/30/2002

I find it reprehensible that the Connecticut Historical Commission should have to suffer such a deep cut in funding. Furthermore, a merging of the Commission with either of the two suggested agencies would destroy the autonomy of the Commission and set back the preservation of Connecticut's heritage. Closed museums are exactly what our state does not need, especially at this time when Americans are doing more domestic and less foreign travel. Good museums bring tourists and dollars into our state to aid our recovery. It is unfortunate that our shortsighted governor and legislature fail to understand this.

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