Wednesday, April 30, 2014

House committee approves funding for Obama's presidential library, again

By Caitlin Rydinsky

A House committee today once again approved $100 million in capital funding for President Barack Obama’s future presidential library and museum after  questions were raised ethics surrounding a previous vote.

The proposal passed at a hearing earlier this month with a 9 to 0 vote, with no Republicans present. The Democratic chairman of the committee used a procedural move to have a vote without the full committee present. After the details came to light, Republicans demanded another vote on House Bill 6010, which is sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Today the bill was approved with no Republican support. Republicans questioned using state funding for the presidential library when the construction of previous libraries was funded by private donations. For example, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum raised $200 million in private funds and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum raised $250 million through private donations. “I’m just curious about what precedence this sets,” said Rep. Joe Sosnowski, a Republican from Rockford. He said that the state should wait to see how much private funding would be received before pledging a specific amount.

“This is a big building. It would be located in the state of Illinois. It would be an international tourist attraction and would be named after the son of Illinois, who became president ... of the United States,” said Madigan. “We are all here to support this. We did it for Abraham Lincoln here in Springfield. We can do it for Barack Obama in Chicago.”

The Obama Presidential Library opened up competition between states to bid and seek the library. Geographic touchstones from the president’s life, such Chicago, where he lived with his family before moving to Washington, D.C., Hawaii, where he was born, and New York, where he attended Columbia University, are considered top contenders. Universities in Chicago, such as the University of Illinois Chicago, University of Chicago and Chicago State University, are all interested in housing the library.

Madigan did not have an estimate of the potential revenue that would be generated by the library, but he said it would be an educational opportunity for children and bring national and international tourism to the state. Estimates from the city of Chicago indicate that the library could bring 55 million visitors by 2020. The projections are based on attendance at the Lincoln presidential library.

Madigan said the funding for an Obama library is no different than the $120 million in state funds offered for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Republicans argued that it is not a fair comparison because the Lincoln Library is run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, where all other presidential libraries fall under the National Archives and Records of Administration.

When asked if the money for the library would take away from other projects already appropriated with capital funding, Madigan said, “If I were a Republican, I would say new growth, but I am not a Republican, so I would have an open mind.” Madigan said he plans to work with both chambers in to gain votes to have the legislation pass and is “prepared to work to find money.”

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