Public clear on library plan

Public clear on library plan

The public has no trouble understanding Illinois' dire economic straits, so why can't our Legislature?

There's a bizarre debate going on in Springfield between Democrats and Republicans over whether to spend $100 million to subsidize construction of a presidential library in Chicago for Barack Obama.

It's bizarre because Illinois doesn't have $100 million to spare, presidential libraries for living presidents are by tradition privately funded; and Chicago is the overwhelming favorite to be the host city for the library even without a state subsidy.

Perhaps a recent public opinion poll with a common-sense perspective will clarify the issue for legislators. Illinoisans overwhelmingly oppose the idea.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is determined that Illinois subsidize the library's construction, and he has persuaded Senate President John Cullerton and Gov. Pat Quinn to take the same position. He further suggests this expenditure is necessary to ensure the library will be built in Chicago. While Republicans want the library to be built in Chicago, they say it is unnecessary as well as wasteful to spend public money to get it done.

A recent Capital Fax/We Ask America poll, however, could inject an air of caution into Madigan's effort.

Pollsters surveyed the opinions of 1,029 likely voters, and the results have a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Just 21 percent of those surveyed thought the state can afford the expenditure, compared with 71 percent who said it can't.

Capital Fax's Rich Miller reports that "the only demographic support for the project wasn't even majority support," referring to the 48-43 plurality of Chicagoans who were queried and the 45-44 plurality of blacks. A plurality of Democrats (48-44) opposed the plan.

Following are some of the majority percentages in opposition — 68 percent of women, 75 percent of independents, 80 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Latinos and whites, 65 percent of Cook County residents and 77 percent of downstaters.

As for Madigan's contention that Chicago is at risk of losing the library to other non-Illinois locales, tradition doesn't support that claim.

The Lyndon Johnson President Library is in Austin, Tex,, near where he grew up. The Richard Nixon Presidential Library is in Yorba Linda, Calif., where he grew up. The Bill Clinton Presidential Library is in Little Rock, Ark., where he was state attorney general and governor. When Obama's library is built, it will be built in Chicago, where he built his professional and political career. He will never permit it to be built elsewhere, and when it is finally built, the Obama library will be a tremendous tourist attraction, just like the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

President Obama is a prodigious fundraiser with a mammoth donor base; he'll have no trouble raising whatever funds the project requires. The General Assembly should allow him to do so and abandon this wasteful, politically unpopular proposal.

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