Illinois lawmakers squabble over funding for Obama library

The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) rises above the city's skyline on November 8, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson, Getty Images

Some Illinois lawmakers want to entice President Obama to locate his presidential library in Chicago by offering up $100 million in state funds for the library's construction, but the proposal has spurred a backlash from those concerned about the state's strained budget.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, put his proposal to help fund the library up for a vote in a House committee meeting last week. No votes had been scheduled for that meeting, so no Republicans were in attendance, and the Democratic majority approved the $100 million.

Now, however, Republicans are balking, so the committee plans to re-vote on the proposal next week, the Associated Press reports.

Minority Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement that the Democrats' move to hold the vote with no Republicans present was "under-handed and sneaky, and offers further proof that they no longer can be trusted with taxpayer money." Furthermore, with $7 billion in unpaid bills and a $100 billion unfunded pension liability, Illinois can't afford to help pay for the Obama library, he said.

"It's ironic that Democrats, who have been threatening drastic cuts in education and other state services if the 'temporary' income tax is allowed to expire, now want to spend $100 million in public funds on the Obama presidential library," Durkin said. "At this point in time, Democrats should be rounding up private financial support for the project - not promising public funds we can't afford."

The construction of modern presidential libraries is, in fact, paid for with private funds, while their upkeep is paid for by U.S. taxpayers. There are 14 presidential libraries and museums in the system, which is administered by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

The libraries and museums, typically located in each president's home state, house vast archives of documents, records, artifacts and other presidential materials. Before the George W. Bush Presidential Center opened last year in Dallas, Texas, more than $500 million was raised for its construction.

The Barack Obama Foundation is responsible for the construction of Mr. Obama's library and is accepting bids from institutions and municipalities that want to host the library through this June. Along with Chicago, the Foundation is likely to get bids from the University of Hawaii at Honolulu, near Mr. Obama's childhood home, and Columbia University in New York City, Mr. Obama's alma mater.