Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

History on the Chopping Block

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

History on the Chopping Block

Article excerpt

How do you place a dollar value on history? That's the daunting question faced by state-operated historic sites nationwide as they get short shrift in the financial crisis slashing state budgets.

How skillfully each state crafts an answer will determine the value our society places on remembering the past.

At the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace in Fremont, N.C., schoolchildren learn about the process of turning wool into yarn, dipping candles, making butter, and other such tasks that marked everyday life in 19th century rural America. The weathered 1840s farmhouse of a former North Carolina governor hosts visitors seeking a glimpse of lifestyles of yesteryear. This year, the staff of this state-run historical site has learned a lesson themselves - not about history but about economics.

In the wake of two budget emergencies declared by the state of North Carolina, the Aycock Birthplace, once open daily, is now closed two days a week.

A new fiscal year for state governments began July 1, and it's not looking rosy. Spiraling Medicaid costs, stagnant revenue sources, and a sluggish economy have all contributed to one of the worst financial climates state governments have faced in decades.

The states combined shortfall for fiscal year 2004 is estimated to be $82 billion, according to the National Governors Association. This comes cruelly on the heels of a $40 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2003, which forced states to make the biggest spending cuts seen in nearly three decades.

With no relief to the budget crunch in sight, lawmakers in nearly every state have made across-the-board reductions in programs. An Internet search reveals that historical sites and museums, whose budgets tend to be comparatively small from the start, are among the hardest-hit programs.

The budget for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which funds many of the state's history museums and historical societies, was cut by 62 percent over the past two years, causing the elimination of 72 full-time jobs in 46 cultural organizations. …

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