Closing or transfering museums might not be bad

Published 3:09 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler recently warned that some museums under his control might have to close if budget cuts proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal become law.

Closing some of these museums — or transferring them to local supporters — might not be a bad thing, in our view.

Schedler said his agency is facing $2.3 million in proposed cuts. He said he can withstand all but $1.5 million of the $2.3 million in proposed cuts. Closing that budget gap could require that some of the smaller museums be closed, Schedler said.

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Jindal administration officials dispute Schedler’s accounting. Division of Administration spokesman Michael Diresto said that Schedler’s agency stands to realize $1.5 million in savings if the Legislature approves Jindal’s proposed changes to state employee retirement benefits. Schedler said he fails to see how such savings can be realized.

We have long expressed the view that Louisiana’s cultural attractions deserve support. But state money for cultural institutions should be spent according to a coherent plan that sets goals and measures results. The Secretary of State’s Office oversees the state archives and 17 museums, including the Old State Capitol. Many of these museums were created over the years with little apparent consideration of their viability and appeal to patrons beyond the small communities where they’re located. Museums of mostly local interest probably shouldn’t be owned and supported by the state.

We hope the present budget debate inspires some rigorous thinking about museums in the state and their long-term practicality. We’d also suggest yet another look at an issue that’s been much discussed, but never acted upon: Why are some state museums operated by the Secretary of State’s Office and others by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office?

This doesn’t seem the best way to advance government efficiency.