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Monday, April 21, 2014
Nix the $100 million for Obama library
Nix the $100 million for Obama library
ANTONIO PEREZ / CHICAGO TRIBUNE
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel chat before testifying in support of the Obama Presidential Library being located in Chicago, before the Illinois House committee.
3:00 am, April 21, 2014
Illinois taxpayers could be on the hook for $100 million, plus interest, for a presidential library in Chicago.
No sweat. Illinois is rolling in cash. Lawmakers devoted $50 million to renovating the Capitol last year, including $669,608 for copper doors, $323,000 for chandeliers and $150,000 for fancy light fixtures.
Never mind that this state is so broke, it took dental care away from poor people. Or that Illinois faces billions in unpaid bills. Springfield lawmakers will always find money to build stuff. The answer for more spending is, Yes! Where do we sign?
At a meeting Thursday in Chicago that was supposed to be for discussion only, the House executive committee voted to borrow $100 million to help finance a presidential library for President Barack Obama. Testifying in favor of the borrowing were House Speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. They characterized the money as insurance to boost Chicago's chances of hosting the library. New York and Hawaii are among Chicago's competitors.
Madigan justified the expense by reminding committee members:
•The state will spend up to $1 billion on construction programs this year, so $100 million is no big deal.
•The state spent nearly $100 million on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield. So there's precedent for similar spending.
•The state may have to cough up more money down the road, but the $100 million would make Chicago "attractive" to the president's foundation, which will choose a site.
Feel better? Didn't think so.
Emanuel reminded committee members that Chicago is "not going to rely on the president's affinity for the city of Chicago" to guarantee the library gets built here.
No sir. Instead, we're going to dangle $100 million in taxpayer money — your money — to sweeten the deal. Now there'ssomething this state is great at doing: doubling down on things it can't afford.
The $100 million borrowing bill now heads to the full House, although Republicans on the executive committee are crying foul. They weren't at Thursday's meeting for various reasons — no votes were scheduled, for one — but the Democrats rammed the proposal through anyway.
Using a procedural maneuver now in question, the Democrats took the liberty of using the quorum from a previous executive committee meeting, which had been recessed rather than adjourned. Then they took "leave" of the roll call, meaning the bill passed without opposition.
That's a common procedure used for committee votes on noncontroversial issues. Rather than take the time of a formal roll call, the chairman asks the leading committee member from the other party for permission to record the vote as unanimous.
But there was no permission granted Thursday because no Republicans were there.
"There was no way they could have gotten (permission), so they did it anyway," said state Rep. Ed Sullivan, the leading Republican on the executive committee. "It's out of order. It's a break of trust of how we conduct business in Springfield."
Sullivan and others are protesting, and Madigan's spokesman indicated the committee may have to take the vote again.
Let's hope this time some Democrats come to their senses. This state has no money to be devoting to a presidential library. Obama's library should be funded the same way most presidential libraries during the last century have been funded: with private money. Bill Clinton and both Bushes did it that way.
Diane LeBlanc of the National Archives and Records Administration said "100 percent of construction is privately funded" for presidential libraries. Beyond requiring that a library be built with private funds, the Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 mandated that private endowments be established to offset a portion of future maintenance costs, she wrote to us in an email.
So why is Illinois willing to throw $100 million at the project anyway?