Illinois lawmakers pushing $100 million Obama library subsidy

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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The Illinois House is set to vote on whether to allocate $100 million in state funds to Barack Obama’s presidential library, if it’s built in Chicago.

The proposal, which passed a committee vote on Thursday, has the backing of House speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat.

“The state of Illinois will spend over $1 billion in construction this year alone, so $100 million is not out of line,” said Madigan, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s clearly a good investment for the future.”

While existing presidential libraries receive public money for operating expenses — $75 million was spent last year on the 13 existing libraries — start-up funds generally come from private donations. The Clinton library’s $165 million cost came from private sources, as did the George W. Bush library, which was estimated to have cost $300 million.

The Obama library is expected to cost around $500 million.

The subsidy proposed by Illinois’ lawmakers would provide even more of an incentive for Obama to select Chicago. New York City and Hawaii have also thrown their hats in the ring. But besides the proposed funding, the other draw for Obama is that the Windy City is his hometown. He and First Lady Michelle Obama still own a home there.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Madigan says that a $100 million allocation would have precedent. Nearly that amount was set aside for the Abraham Lincoln presidential library, he said.

The Lincoln library is somewhat different, however. It was not included as part of the Presidential Libraries Act, which was signed in 1955 by Dwight D. Eisenhower. The National Archive and Records Administration, a federal agency, was set up to operate those libraries.

According to its website, the Lincoln library “is a historic site of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and as such is partially supported through by [sic] the State of Illinois.”

The spending proposal has angered some who point out that Illinois’ relatively weak economy, high tax rates, and $45 billion budget deficit leave little room for the handout.

“It is outrageous that the most prolific fundraiser in the history of mankind would even entertain the notion of forcing Illinois’ poor and middle class to subsidize his presidential library,” said John Tillman, CEO of Illinois Policy Institute, in a statement.

“The president should let it be known that he will not accept taxpayer dollars for his presidential library and will instead look to his many wealthy financial backers to donate the funds,” continued Tillman.

Controversy also surrounds the vote procedure. It was originally claimed that the House committee voted 9-0 to approve the subsidy. But the Illinois Mirror, an independent state news source, reported that Madigan used a procedural maneuver to record a unanimous vote that did not take place.

“The roll call appears to be unequivocally out of order.  It is often the case that the majority party in Illinois will simply change the rules to get what they want accomplished,” said Republican state Rep. Ed Sullivan, according to the Illinois Mirror.

Sullivan said that only four Democrats were present at what was thought to be an information gathering meeting rather than a vote on the issue. Using a procedure, Madigan recorded the 9-0 vote.

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