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Illinois GOP leaders say state can't afford $100M for Obama library

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FILE: Dec. 3, 2013: Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, left, talks with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, during a committee hearing at the Capitol in Springfield, Ill. (AP)

The top Republicans in the Illinois Legislature are pushing back against Democrats' plan to offer $100 million in taxpayer money to lure President Obama's presidential library to Chicago, arguing the cash-strapped state can't afford the investment. 

Minority Leader Jim Durkin said in a prepared statement released Monday that the state cannot afford the proposal 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. "Where is this money going to come from?" 

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno questioned the legality of spending state money on a presidential library. According to the Congressional Research Service, presidential libraries are funded through a mix of federal and private sources.

“This is going to happen. There will be an Obama presidential library [in Chicago],” Radogno told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Which raises the question: why would you spend [the money], especially given the finances of the state?” 

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.

"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?"

Durkin told the Chicago Sun-Times that the proposal could be a useful political tool to drive a wedge between Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner and African-American voters ahead of November's election. 

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown dismissed Durkin's suggestion.

“It’s only a wedge issue if you’re against President Obama,” Brown told the newspaper. “It’s sort of unfortunate to see the tea party agenda take over these guys. But I guess they have time for it.”   

Madigan said Tuesday at a Democratic party meeting in Springfield that the library funding vote will be held again on April 30 to quash criticism. He blamed a "misunderstanding of the rules" on the lack of Republican attendance. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from the Chicago Sun-Times.