GOP says state can't afford Obama library

From staff and wire reportsApril 21, 2014 

State Rep. Dwight Kay.

DERIK HOLTMANN — dholtmann@bnd.com

— The top Republican in the Illinois House criticized on Monday majority Democrats' plan to offer $100 million in taxpayer money to lure Barack Obama's presidential library to Chicago.

And a Republican House member from the metro-east says someone illegally cast a "yes" vote for him during a vote on the expenditure.

Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said the state cannot afford the investment when Illinois owes $7 billion in overdue bills and has a $100 billion deficit in its employee pension programs.

"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 in a prepared statement. "Where is this money going to come from?"

Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed making a 2011 income tax hike, set to roll back next year, permanent to avoid severe budget cuts.

The Obama library measure's sponsor, House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has pointed out that the funding would be money borrowed for the purpose of building the library, not funds coming out of operational expenses.

He said a source of the money, and a way to pay it back, has yet to be determined, but it could be included in a new long-term, statewide construction program. A $31 billion, five-year program financed with increased liquor and candy taxes expires this year.

Chicago, where Obama began his political career, wants to host his presidential papers. Hawaii, where he grew up, and New York, where he went to college, also expect to make bids to build the library in those states.

Democrats hold a slim advantage on the Madigan-controlled House Executive Committee, which approved the $100 million proposal last week with no Republicans in attendance. A committee member, Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican, had planned to challenge that vote as a violation of House rules.

Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon, said someone illegally cast a "yes" vote for him during the committee meeting Thursday in Chicago. Kay served as a temporary member of the committee the previous day, when it was considering gambling legislation that would affect the Fairmount Park horse-racing track. After the gambling issue was addressed, Kay said he returned to the metro-east -- and wasn't even in Chicago on Thursday.

"I'm not a member of the Executive Committee, and the Democrats chose to vote on my behalf, which is illegal," Kay said. "What happened is criminal, and someone should be held accountable. This is typical Chicago-style politics at work. My constituents elected me to vote for them, my constituents didn't elect the Chicago politicians who stole my vote by voting on my behalf."

But Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Monday the matter would go again before the House Executive Committee on April 30 to silence criticisms.

"In the history of the presidential library system, beginning in 1939, no public funds have ever been used to build a library," Sullivan said. "Why break precedent now?"

Kay said, "We need to pay our unpaid bills owed to schools, doctors, hospitals and pay Illinois residents' tax returns before we spend $100 million on a library that can easily be built with private funds."

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