One place for Obama library
State officials need to hold their horses when it comes to subsidizing the cost of the Obama Presidential Library.
In a state as broke as Illinois, it's a big deal to spend $100 million on a nonessential project.
Nonetheless, House Speaker Michael Madigan is pushing plans to appropriate $100 million as part of an effort to attract President Obama's presidential library to Chicago. A House committee last week gave unanimous approval to the measure.
New York and Hawaii also are vying to host to what certainly will be a prestigious attraction. But Chicago, where Obama made his bones as an aspiring lawyer, professor and politician, is clearly the most appropriate location. Frankly, any location other than Chicago would be preposterous, given Obama's roots in the Windy City and his rather brief associations elsewhere.
But whether it's appropriate to spend $100 million Illinois doesn't have to get the library is another issue altogether.
Madigan bases his arguments for the spending on two points. He contends that money spent on the library would be repaid many times over by the visitors the library would draw to Chicago. Further, he argues, Illinois spent roughly that much on the highly popular Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. The Lincoln library is a must-see venue for visitors to the Springfield area.
The Lincoln library, however, is distinct from libraries of recent presidents, including those for former presidents like Reagan, Clinton, Bushs 41 and 43. Libraries for presidents of more recent vintage were built entirely with private funds, much of the money solicited from wealthy donors by the presidents themselves.
There is no doubt that an Obama presidential library would be a feather in Chicago's cap, serving tourists as well as scholars engaged in research. But Illinois has gotten itself in deep financial trouble by insisting on spending money it doesn't have. Gov. Quinn and legislators would be well-advised to hold promised spending in abeyance.
President Obama and his wife, Michelle, more than anyone else, will decide where his presidential library will go. It's hard to imagine that they would not insist on a state subsidy for choosing Chicago. Illinois doesn't have the money, and it shouldn't need the money to acquire the Obama library.