A bill working its way through the Oklahoma Legislature would cut funding to the Will Rogers Memorial Museums and the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum along Route 66 in Claremore, Okla., reported the Claremore Daily Progress.
State Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Tuttle) proposes phasing out funding to those museums so money can be devoted to more crucial areas, such as schools and roads. Because of the recession, the state of Oklahoma is dealing with an estimated $400 million deficit.
The newspaper points out a somewhat thorny problem with Osborn’s proposal:
But the Will Rogers Memorial and the J.M. Davis Museum are special in that both were founded by generous donations by benefactors — the Rogers family and J.M. Davis — with agreements that the state would maintain them. (my emphasis) […]
The extensive collections in the museums do cost money for upkeep. As state institutions, both are free to the public with donation boxes available. […]
“The J.M. Davis and the Will Rogers museums are the only two public museums not under the Oklahoma History Center and the reason is, both of the museums were created by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor because both of these museums are so unique in what they do,” said Wayne McCombs, Director of the J.M. Davis. “The land for both museums was given to the state.” […]
Should funding be lost, it is likely the J.M. Davis Gun and Historical Museum could close. If the state reneges on its commitment, the heirs would be free to sell the guns, which are worth a fortune.
Obviously, most Oklahomans would not want these museums to close — especially the one devoted to Will Rogers, who arguably remains the state’s most famous citizen even 75 years after his death.
But it’s almost impossible to refute that schools and roads are more critical to a state’s citizens than museums.
Here’s an idea: Hasn’t anyone considered whether the Will Rogers Museums and J.M. Davis Museum could be operated better and more profitably in private hands? That’s especially the case for the J.M. Davis Museum, which has been besieged by problems with theft, neglect and mismanagement in recent years.
I’m not saying privatization is an answer. But it shouldn’t be quickly dismissed, either.
The bill number is HB 1667.