Minn. Historical Society faces drastic budget cuts

Lindbergh house
Charles Lindbergh's boyhood home, south of Little Falls, Minn., is a historic site. It would be closed to the public by the Historical Society if the agency's budget is cut by 15 percent next year, as Gov. Pawlenty has proposed.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The Minnesota Historical Society said today it may lay off nearly 100 employees, cut the hours of another 220, and close some historic sites in the state as a result of cuts in its state funding and the poor economy.

The cuts amount to 16 percent of the agency's overall budget, and would take effect July 1, 2009.

The plan is based on expected cuts in the Society's funding from the state of Minnesota, as well as the effects of the current economic downturn.

MHS Director Nina Archabal says the organization has two main expenses, buildings and people, and due to the nature of what it does, budget cuts bring a disproportionate impact on staff.

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"The plan, that we hope we will never implement, would involve the elimination of 40 full time people, 54 part time people, and the reduction in hours of 223 other people," she said. "All of this effecting a total of 317 individuals, as much as 46 percent of our total staff."

Three historic sites would close on July 1: Historic Forestville in Preston, North West Company Fur Post in Pine City, and Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls.

Public hours for several other historic sites, including Fort Snelling and Mill City Museum, would be reduced -- as well as access to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

"Our main objective in meeting the challenges of today's economic downturn is to continue to preserve the state's history and educate the state's schoolchildren and adults," said Archabal.

She says she hopes as word gets out about the plan, she hopes people will contact their legislators to protest cuts to the MHS.

Gov. Pawlenty's press secretary Brian McClung says everyone has to make cuts in the current economic climate. He credits the Historical Society for creating a comprehensive plan.

"If you weren't able to go to the Historical Society library when you thought you might be able to to, some people might notice that. It doesn't seem like the Historical Society is trying to go overboard," said McClung. "I think their attempt here is one that presents a realistic approach as they look at the budget situation."

Gov. Pawlenty has proposed a 15 percent cut in historical society funding, the Minnesota House is considering a 10 percent cut and the Minnesota Senate 7 percent.

The Historical Society says it is also projecting a 20 percent shortfall in its non-state revenues, due to declines in admissions, charitable gifts and investments.

Archabal says the budget plan won't be made final until after lawmakers and the governor approve the state's next two-year budget. Until then, there will be no changes to the Historical Society's operations.

The Historical Society is part of a coalition which is making a case that half of the funds from the new state sales tax to benefit arts and culture should go towards historical projects.