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Kate Rooney/ MEDILL

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan spoke to reporters about the presidential library construction at a hearing earlier this month in Chicago.

Executive hearing committee approves $100 million of state funds for Obama Library construction

by Kate Rooney
Apr 30, 2014

An Illinois House of Representatives committee, Wednesday, approved $100 million from the Capital Development Fund for the construction of a Barack Obama presidential library and museum in Chicago.

In a  7-4 party-line vote on the bill (HB 6010) the House Executive Committee approved the spending of state money for the project despite objections from Republicans in the House.

But Democratic House Speaker Michael J. Madigan the bill’s principal sponsor said, “This could become the one item that the city would be associated with worldwide.”

He called it a worthwhile investment that will support Chicago’s goal of bringing 55 million visitors to the city by 2020 along with “jobs, tourism, and educational opportunities.”

Some Executive Committee members agreed the library could be a crown jewel for Illinois and the city of Chicago, but questioned funding in light of the state’s fiscal situation.

State Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein, said he’s not opposed to the library being built in Chicago, but emphasized  that this project is a matter of “wants not needs.” He mentioned other priorities, such as air-conditioning in CPS schools.

“My understanding, is that these funds are already tied up for capital projects,” Sullivan said at the committee hearing in Springfield Wednesday. “What projects are we going to end or not fund?”

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, who is not a committee member said, “Recent libraries for living presidents have been paid for by private funds.” She also asked about past presidential library bidding processes. “Did they put it out there for bids as if it were the Olympics or something?”

According to Madigan, this level of competition among states has not existed for other presidential libraries, but provides even more impetus for state-funding. He pointed to an Illinois precedent to make his case.

“We did research concerning the Lincoln Library, and felt  if we spent $125 million for Lincoln, then $100 million would be reasonable for an Obama Library,” Madigan said.

Sullivan disagreed saying, the two library construction projects are “apples and oranges.” He added that while the Lincoln Library was state-funded, it also is state-run.

“All the libraries have gone down the lines of being taken over by the  federal government, at the point it’s ready to be opened, then turned over to the NARA (National Archives and Records Administration),” Sullivan said.

In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn said,  “I am open to a discussion about a state investment in an Obama Presidential Library if it can be coupled with a large amount of private donations, and if it will create long-term economic benefits for Illinois that far exceed our investment."

The bill now will go to the floor of the House. According to his spokesman, Madigan hopes the project will be part of a $31 billion dollar state construction program that’s still being negotiated.

A Chicago-based Obama library is far from guaranteed. The Barack Obama Foundation has issued a “Request for Qualifications” to be submitted by cities or interested parties by June 16.

Over the summer, the Foundation will review and evaluate proposals, and render a final decision in early 2015.