Legislative leaders consider using state tax dollars meant for roads to help pay for Obama museum

Democrat leaders in Springfield are signaling that they plan to propose using state road dollars to help build President Barack Obama’s museum in Chicago. Rauner said he supports both road spending and the library, but wouldn’t commit to the idea.

In the last couple days, both Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said they’d support using state road funds on Obama’s presidential library that will be built over the next three years on Chicago’s south side. The presidential center would need to have one road demolished and others altered to be completed.

On Thursday, Rauner said he supports more infrastructure spending as well as Obama’s library, but he didn’t say he’d commit public funds to the project.

“No. 1: I am very supportive of more investment in infrastructure,” Rauner said. “No. 2: I am very supportive of the Obama library.”

But Rauner said that he would like to see further government spending restraints before the state invests in tourism attractions such as the library.

A Chicago Tribune poll from 2014 showed that more than half of likely voters polled didn’t support state taxpayer funds being used on the Obama library project. Opposition for using state funds on the project was 2-1 outside of Chicago.

State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, said Obama should be more than capable of raising that money himself.

“It’s just amazing that one of the most prolific fundraisers in the history of politics can’t come up with the money to build their library,” he said.

Davidsmeyer, who is also vice president of Illinois Road Contractors Inc., says the state’s roads are in dire need of repair.

“I don’t think we’re in any situation to spend another penny somewhere else let alone $100 million,” he said.

Democrats pushed in 2014 to offer $100 million in road funds to persuade Obama’s foundation to put the library in Chicago.

Rauner has long expressed support for the Obama library, but he has been skeptical of public funds going into it.

Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that there should be a state commitment to helping build the Obama Presidential Center just as they have the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

In 2014, then gubernatorial candidate Rauner said that the state has more pressing needs and thought that the Obama library should be privately funded like other presidential museums. In 2015, Rauner signed a bill that would make lawsuits against the building of the Obama Presidential Center and the now-relocated Lucas Museum more difficult.


Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for Illinois News Network and Watchdog.org. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.


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