Mike Madigan wants the state to put up $100 million — and maybe even more — to build Barack Obama's presidential library in Chicago. The House speaker believes the financial commitment will set Illinois apart from other bidders in Hawaii and New York.
But isn't Illinois in dire financial straits and digging deep into its citizens' pockets?
Nonetheless, the House Executive Committee endorsed Madigan's plan on Thursday. The full Illinois House will consider the appropriation next and it's likely to pass.
"We have a precedent for this," Madigan said, referring to the almost $100 million the state put up to build the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. But the last time we checked, all of Honest Abe's wealthy friends and supporters were long dead. And Illinois' lack of a presidential library and museum recognizing one of the most significant presidents in American history represented a shameful void.
At the time, putting up money to build Lincoln's library was the right thing to do, particularly because fund-raising efforts took an excruciatingly long time.
Barack Obama's rich friends and donors are very much alive, however, and they should be footing the bill for this, wherever the library lands.
The University of Chicago, Chicago State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago intend to bid. Madigan told the Tribune's John Byrne that he would be twisting some arms to persuade the library hopefuls to come together on a single site. Building the library and museum could exceed $500 million. The Barack Obama Foundation will consider proposals from others who can lay claim to a piece of President Obama's personal history and life's journey.
Chicago's rep for insider deals aside, the president ought to make it clear that taxpayer money shouldn't be spent on his library.
If Madigan wants to sweeten the package with a government incentive, perhaps the state should consider offering up all the land purchased for the never-to-be-built third airport in Chicago's south suburbs as a site for the library.Unlike the long-dreamt-for third airport, a presidential library in the Southland would be a real economic driver and perpetual travel draw for decades to come.
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