SPRINGFIELD – Chicago Democrats are pushing for Illinois taxpayers to foot the bill for another presidential library. It’s only fair, House Speaker Mike Madigan says, that Illinois taxpayers come up with $100 million to honor Barack Obama as they did Abraham Lincoln with their investment in Springfield’s Lincoln Presidential Library.
But many are asking if a presidential library is a good financial investment for a state deeply in debt; or is it simply a taxpayer-funded tourist site with educational and historical value?
And what happens after a presidential library is built? Does the investment pay off or do taxpayers end up subsidizing it?
In Fiscal Year 2013, $9.8 million of the $12.1 million budgeted to run the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) came from Illinois’ General Revenue Fund. The other $3.7 million came from revenue sources such as museum admissions, parking and gift shop proceeds.
In FY 2013, 321,137 people visited the museum complex, and the Bureau of Tourism estimates those visitors may have generated $26 million in economic activity, along with $1.8 million in state and local tax revenue.
But money isn’t everything, Lincoln Library spokesman Christopher Wills told Illinois Review.
“The economic impact is important, but it’s not the only measure of the ALPLM’s success,” Wills said. “This is also an educational institution. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren visit each year. Authors do research here. Scholars give lectures here.”
The question remains: Should taxpayers foot the $100 million attempt to bring another presidential library to Illinois?
The federal government may have something to say about it.
The Presidential Libraries Act requires presidential libraries to be built with private money and then maintained with a combination of a private endowment and federal funds.
Because the Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield was not set up under the Presidential Libraries Act, lawmakers were allowed to use public funds for the library’s planning and construction.
The same federal law requiring the use of private funds for Obama’s library may create an unforeseen obstacle for Madigan’s plan.