Illinois Dems back off $100 million push for Obama library following outrage

Illinois Democrats are backing off a plan to give $100 million of state money toward landing President Obama’s presidential library and museum -- following accusations of voting “shenanigans” and nasty Chicago-style politics, not to mention the state’s dire financial situation.

A Democrat-led House committee approved the money last week at an out-of-town hearing in Chicago with no Republicans in attendance. They instead relied on a procedural move that allowed them to use votes from a previous meeting.

“What they did last week was under-handed and sneaky and offers further proof that they no longer can be trusted with taxpayer money,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

State GOP Rep. Dwight Kay said his previous vote shouldn’t count because he was only a temporary member of the committee, beyond Democrats breaking their own House rules.

“This is typical Chicago politics at work,” he said. “The Chicago Democrats knew I wouldn’t support spending $100 million that we don’t have on a presidential library, so they decided to violate their own rules and cast my vote anyway.”

The deal has even taken a drubbing in the local editorial pages.

“A state that is nearly broke has no business spending $100 million on a potential Barack Obama presidential library,” says an editorial in the “Throw in some parliamentary procedure shenanigans and the Obama presidential library is quickly becoming the typical Illinois government story -- spend money that isn't there and do it in a sneaky way.”

The editorial also points out the recent presidential libraries for Bill Clinton and the Bushes were built entirely with privately-raised funds.

Daniel Burke, the House committee chairman, told on Tuesday that the meeting was just a testimony hearing and that he presumes legislation on the issue will follow.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, says the committee will revisit the issue April 30 to end the accusations of back-room politics.

However, Republicans express little optimism about stopping the spending, considering Democrats control both General Assembly chambers and Gov. Pat Quinn is a Democrat.

Still, there is little argument about whether Illinois has serious money problems.

The state has roughly $7 billion in past due vendor bills and a $100 billion shortfall in its employee pension programs. And the situation is so serious that Quinn wants to make permanent a roughly 3-year-old tax increase, which was set to expire next year, to avoid having to make drastic budget cuts.

“The state of Illinois is beyond broke,” Durkin said.

Madigan has said the money would come from a construction fund, not the state’s operating funds.

He also said the funding would be borrowed money. However, the source of the money and how to repay it has yet to be determined.

Burke told on Tuesday that the money would be well spent, considering the potential economic impact -- particularly the boost in tourism and the new hotels and restaurants that would open to serve visitors.

He is not alone in such thinking, considering Hawaii and now New York are also competing to host the library and museum.

The Barack Obama Foundation, the nonprofit started to create the library and museum, has asked interested parties to submit proposals by June 16.

Chicago is largely considered the frontrunner, considering that is where Obama started his political career and first lady Michelle Obama was raised.

Obama worked as a community organizer there before getting elected to the state Senate and U.S. Senate. And the city also is home to many of the president's closest friends and advisers including Martin Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman who is leading the foundation.

Obama was born and raised mostly in Hawaii, a place where he returns during the Christmas holidays to visit family and friends.

He spent only a few years in New York City, earning an undergraduate degree from Columbia University and working there briefly. However, the city, with its center-of-the-universe cache, would certainly be a likely contender.

"We are not going to rely on the president's affinity for the city of Chicago," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff. "We will be subtle in our reminder where his family is from, where he started his career. But we want to be very competitive in making sure this library and this foundation come back to the city of Chicago."

Susan Sher, the first lady's former chief of staff who is now leading the University of Chicago's efforts to land the library, said it could have a "transformative effect" on South Side neighborhoods that are struggling economically by creating jobs, programs for youth and cultural partnerships.

Hawaii's group -- the Barack Obama Hawaii Presidential Center Initiative committee -- has several potential sites including a picturesque oceanfront plot that could be given to the library or leased at a nominal cost.

The group is trying to win the bid in part with a unique pitch that includes a dynamic facility that would address such issues as food security, alternative energy, childhood wellness and veterans’ issues.

Robert Perkinson, the initiative’s director and a University of Hawaii professor, told on Wednesday that the group is putting together a proposal that he thinks will be competitive and attractive.

The foundation repeated again this week that it will play no favorites in picking a location, amid speculation that Nesbitt’s involvement gives Chicago the edge, and pointed to his remarks earlier this year.

“We hope that the library ends up being a point of pride for the entire country, where ever it is," Nesbitt said. "I think it will end up in the place that puts together the best proposal."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.