Illinois is the Land of Lincoln. Here, we have Lincoln’s home, tomb, law office and a myriad of other sites across the state which had an impact on or were impacted by Lincoln. Our favorite son—and the nation’s most famous president—is inexorably woven into the civic fabric of our state.
Yet a recent headline in a local paper blared: “Tourists greeted by locked gate: Out-of-staters surprised by New Salem’s closing.” This is very bad news for the citizens of Illinois, for those who own tourism-affected businesses, and for the prestige of our state as the repository of Lincoln’s legacy. Worst of all, the bad news comes courtesy of the governor of this Land of Lincoln.
As we move into the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009—an event which will be celebrated throughout the world and one which will bring people of the world to our doorstep—those of us from Lincoln’s “home” state are in the midst of a tremendous travesty created by Governor Blagojevich.
Not only has the governor slashed funding for the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission just as they are finalizing plans for 2009, he has dramatically reduced funding for the 50-plus state historic sites across Illinois and declared that these sites must be closed at least two days a week.
Some sites, like the famous Lincoln-Herndon Law Office in Springfield, have been reduced to being open just one day a week. The law office is located a scant two blocks from the internationally acclaimed Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and is a sure stop for anyone visiting Lincoln’s Springfield.
Tourism in Illinois is a revenue generator for state coffers. Receipts from sales tax, motor fuel tax and income tax are all increased by the number of tourists we bring into our state. And the number-one reason why tourists travel across the entire state of Illinois is Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. The state’s investment in these sites creates a positive impact on its bottom line.
During the same week that the governor slashed these funds, he also trumpeted Illinois tourism with a barrage of news releases announcing the positive economic impact of tourists across the state. His own words seem to defy his logic on the closings he announced later: “Visitors are pumping millions of dollars into the Illinois economy and are helping to create good jobs for the hard-working people of our state,” he said.
Well, governor, some of those hard-working people are the very people you laid off with these closings. And the money going into the Illinois economy will be less because people will not want to visit our state if the sites they want to see are closed.
Worst of all, as we celebrate the Lincoln Bicentennial next year—and when the world comes knocking on our front door to learn more about Lincoln—they will be greeted with a “Site Closed” sign. That’s not a way to impress the world, especially as we try to land the Olympics in Chicago.
The U.S. Congressional delegation from Illinois has recently done much to promote Lincoln and tourism across the state. Both Senator Durbin and I serve as co-chairs of the National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. The entire delegation worked to create and fund the Lincoln National Heritage Area in 42 counties across the central part of the state. We have also worked to increase funding for the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
In a state budget of well over $50 billion, the $2.8 million slashed from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency does not amount to much, but it will have a huge negative impact on tourists’ spending dollars in our communities. I urge the Governor to find another area to cut the $2.8 million. Maybe he can start with his own office? By restoring these cuts, the state can make sure when people come to visit the Land of Lincoln, they will actually be able to find Lincoln. iBi