By Jackson Adams -
The Illinois House Executive Committee once more pledged $100 million in taxpayer money to the construction of the Obama Presidential Library.
The first vote took place during an out-of-session committee meeting in Chicago, which no Republican members of the committee attended.
However, using a parliamentary maneuver the committee chairman recorded all committee members including the four Republicans not in attendance as voting in favor of spending $100 million for the library.
When Republicans complained, House Speaker Michael Madigan agreed to bring the matter up for a vote again Wednesday.
“The first time we obviously had some problems with the procedures that took place,” said state Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, who is GOP spokesperson for the House Executive Committee. “You cannot have a vote during a recess committee when we are not in session.”
The committee passed the bill, 7-4.
“We are confident that this is a great investment back into the city,” said Victoria Watkins, a lobbyist for the city of Chicago. “We know we can’t rest on the fact that the president and his family love the city.”
But not everyone was so enthusiastic.
“With everything that we’re going through right now with the budget issues and whether or not we want to keep or let the tax increase sunset, I think it’s very irresponsible of us to commit $100 million dollars for a Presidential Library no matter who the president is,” said state Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale. “If that were to come to the floor of the House, I would not be voting to put money towards that. … If it does make it to the floor, I would be surprised to see it pass.”
House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, made it clear the project was very much a personal one.
“This bill was my idea and I thought about it for a long time,” he said. “I introduced the bill without any notice to the White House, so there’s been no attempts to leverage me on the bill or the issue. I just happen to think that it would be good for Illinois, good for Chicago, to get this library and museum located in Chicago and it’s very appropriate for the state of Illinois to participate in the cost.”
Republicans opposed to the bill made it clear their opposition was based on Illinois’ financial difficulties.
“I’ve tried to channel this as a want versus a need. We’d love to have the library. Nobody denies that it would be great for Illinois to have this library,” Sullivan said. “But when you’re trying to put air conditioning in the city of Chicago’s public schools to create a better learning environment for our students, that’s a need, not a want.”
During the committee, state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford asked whether it would not be better to promise to help with funding if the private fundraising fell short, rather than offering money up front.
Madigan agreed that the funding set a new precedent, since recent presidential libraries had raised their own funds privately.
He also agreed that the competitive bidding system set up by the committee responsible for determining the location of the library was new, as far as he knew.
“I don’t understand how you would see the presidential library go somewhere other than Chicago,” Sullivan said. “This is a president that raised and spent a billion dollars on his last campaign. I think we’re going to be able to find the money just fine and I’d offered to personally donate for the library because I’d love to see it come.”
The fact that Illinois would even have to compete for the president’s library struck state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, as disheartening.
“The president has had a wonderful political career starting with community service,” she said. “But he is not unaware of our fiscal situation in the state of Illinois and what a great asset this would be to the city of Chicago.”
Even with Madigan pushing for the bill, Sullivan remained doubtful that the House would pass it.
“I don’t know how this passes, when you coin this in terms of your needs and your wants,” he said. “How do you say, ‘well, we’re going to make the income tax permanent, otherwise we’re going to have Draconian cuts to education, Medicaid and human services — but we’re going to go build a $100 million dollars’ worth of a library?’”
Jackson Adams writes for Illinois News Network