Bad investment

Bad investment

Why is it so hard for some of our elected officials to remember that Illinois is broke?

An Illinois House committee did the wrong thing the right way Wednesday when it voted to spend $100 million to subsidize a presidential library for President Obama.

The committee voted 7-4 along party lines to recommend the expenditure, a welcome repudiation of a previous unanimous vote in which majority committee Democrats cast yes votes for absent Republicans.

This time, Republican cast their own votes.

Despite correcting the ill-conceived procedure allowing one party to cast votes for the other — House Speaker Michael Madigan called it a "misunderstanding" — it's still unwise to force taxpayers to spend $100 million they don't have to attract a presidential library they will surely get.

There's no more appropriate state than Illinois to host Obama's library. There's no city other than Chicago as the location. After all, this is where the president made his home and built his career.

On this Democrats and Republicans agree. So why is this issue being cast as a partisan dispute when the real issue is financial?

It's an election year, and Speaker Madigan has concluded that insisting on spending state dollars for an Obama library is a good way to pick a fight with Republicans.

Democrats correctly note that the state expended funds to subsidize construction of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. The difference between Lincoln and Obama is that one has been dead for more than 100 years and the other is very much alive.

The tradition surrounding recent libraries for living former presidents is that they personally raise the money to build their libraries. With dozens of ultra-wealthy supporters, President Obama, like Presidents Clinton, Nixon, Reagan, Carter and the Bushes did, can easily oversee construction of a presidential library not built with taxpayer dollars.

There's another issue here that's a constant source of angst. Illinois is effectively bankrupt, and $100 million unnecessarily spent on an Obama library is $100 million that can't be better spent elsewhere. With public debate continuing over this kind of ill-advised expenditure, it's no wonder the state is in dire financial straits with no prospects for improvement.

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