President Barack Obama’s second term doesn’t end until Jan. 20, 2017, but New York, Hawaii, and Illinois are already competing to host his presidential library—and some Illinois Democrats want to use $100 million in state tax dollars to fund its construction in Chicago.
“To show him we’re serious about wanting him in Illinois, we have to do the right thing,” Illinois state Rep. Monique Davis said. That “right” thing will cost the state $100 million, a high price for a state already more than $321 billion in debt, according to the nonprofit organization State Budget Solutions. That translates to a per capita state debt of almost $25,000.
The federal Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 prevents presidential libraries from using federal funds for construction. It is legal to use state tax dollars, but no presidential library ever has. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library raised $165 million in private funding and accepted a $11.5 million land donation from the city of Little Rock, Ark. The George W. Bush Foundation helped raise $250 million for the 41st president’s library in Dallas.
“A Presidential Library is constructed with private or non-Federal funds donated to nonprofit organizations established usually for the express purpose of building a Presidential Library and supporting its programs,” according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Every president since Herbert Hoover has used private funding for his presidential library. According to Diane Leblanc, regional liaison at the National Archives, the only instance of state tax dollars contributing to a presidential library was for the Lincoln presidential library, also in Illinois. The current proposal for Illinois tax money would be the first of its kind for a living president.
The Obama presidential library also is expected to be the most expensive to date, with current cost estimates at $500 million. Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House, said lawmakers would borrow funds to build the library rather than taking money out of the state’s operating budget. Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin contrasted Democratic concerns about potential cuts in education and other state services with the desire to “spend $100 million in public funds” on the library.
The Illinois bid runs up against rival bids from Hawaii and New York. Obama’s birth state is offering land in Kakaako, a seaside commercial and retail district in Honolulu. New York is offering space at Columbia University, the president’s alma mater. Neither plan proposes using taxpayer funds.
The bill had its final reading last month, but then the Illinois legislature went into recess until January. A vote on the bill likely will come early in 2015.