Republican statehouse leaders ripped a proposal to give $100 million to construction efforts for President Barack Obama’s presidential library, arguing there’s no reason the cash-strapped state should dole out money when the president has proven himself a more-than-capable fundraiser.
“When we’re sitting at $7 billion of unpaid bills, why are we dangling $100 million to the decision-makers to entice them to come to Chicago?” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, told the Sun-Times editorial board Tuesday.
Durkin and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, took turns railing against the proposal, which House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, muscled through a House committee last week while the Legislature was on spring break.
No Republicans attended the hearing and the committee was not supposed to have voted on the financing measure, which was not requested by the Barack Obama Presidential Foundation. Backlash over the vote has prompted Madigan to call for a re-vote by the committee.
Beyond Madigan’s cloak-and-dagger parliamentary maneuvers, Radogno said there are serious questions about the legality of spending state money on a presidential library.
Under the federal Presidential Libraries Act, modern presidential libraries are built with private money and maintained through a mix of private and federal funds.
Legal questions aside, both said there’s no reason to offer incentives because an Obama presidential library in Chicago is already a fait accompli.
“This is going to happen. There will be an Obama presidential library [in Chicago],” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said. “Which raises the question: why would you spend [the money], especially given the finances of the state?”
Durkin had one possible answer. The proposal could be a useful political “wedge,” he said, especially after Madigan pulled the plug on a proposed “millionaires tax.” That proposal failed to advance after two Democrats joined united Republican resistance in the House.
“Since [Madigan’s] millionaires tax has fallen off, I think that this . . . might be how they operate the balance of the session, is find a wedge issue,” Durkin said.
The library funding issue might resonate with African American voters — a traditional Democratic constituency that Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner wants to make inroads with.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown dismissed the suggestion the speaker is trying to drive a wedge between Rauner and African-American voters.
Brown said anyone against state funding for the library was in league with Republicans’ Tea Party wing.
“It’s only a wedge issue if you’re against President Obama,” Brown said. “It’s sort of unfortunate to see the Tea Party agenda take over these guys. But I guess they have time for it.”