The Great Recession and shifting political priorities have driven down levels of state funding for just about everything, from education to social services. Few institutions have been hit as hard as museums.

According to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, state funding of non-state-owned museums declined from $29.3 million in the 2005-2006 fiscal year to $2.7 million in 2011-2012. Over the same period, funding for 26 state-operated museums and historic sites, including the Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland, has fallen from $39.8 million to $26 million.

The reductions have had predictable results - reduced staff, fewer operating hours, fewer exhibits, more staff time spent on fundraising and so on. They also have resulted in a study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee that offers some insight and one especially key recommendation to put museums on firmer footing in this era of growing government austerity.

The committee's survey of museum directors, for example, found that the chief concern was not money alone but predictable budgeting. That produced a recommendation for multi-year budget appropriations for museums.

Also, the committee recommended better coordination and oversight for grants that are used for purposes other than operations funding. It found that grants often violate state law and regulations, and that there is little coordination among three state agencies that offer museum grants.

Museums are low on the priority list when it comes to government services, and they will likely remain there as larger percentages of public funds go toward health care, pensions and other rising costs. Still, Pennsylvania lawmakers could help to stabilize funding for museums through predictable budgeting and a dedicated revenue source, and allow such facilities to continue their rolls as important historical and tourism entities that add value to our communities - even if they use less tax dollars to do so.