Illinois House Republicans today got their chance to vote against using tax money to pay for a Barack Obama presidential library two weeks after Democrats recorded them voting for it at a meeting they didn't attend.
Two weeks ago a House committee approved the plan on a 9-0 vote even though at least four lawmakers counted as "yes" votes were not at the hearing. Today, the plan to spend $100 million on a potential library was approved 7-4.
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"We are here for a revote, and I think the House will sit proper by wiping the record clean of that vote, and so we can now have a good discussion about the merits," said state Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican who had objected to being counted as a "yes."
Republicans objected to the state paying for a library while Illinois is in a fiscal crisis and suggested it be paid for with private money.
After some discussion, all Democrats voted for it and all Republicans voted against it, sending the measure to the full House.
"In this case, we're talking about a son of Illinois that became the president of the United States. This library and museum would be dedicated to that son of Illinois. It would become an international tourist attraction," House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, said.
Lawmakers would still have to find a way to pay for it and Obama would have to decide to locate it in Illinois.
Madigan said the reason Illinois is looking to commit public funds is that the money is intended to make a Chicago bid for the library look stronger. He pointed out that Hawaii, where Obama was born, and New York, where he attended college, are both also in competition for the library.
Also, Madigan said that the Lincoln Library in Springfield was built using about $125 million in public funds, so using $100 million for the Obama library seemed appropriate.
State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican, said Obama knows of Illinois' financial troubles.
"He's not unaware of our fiscal situation in the state of Illinois, and what a great asset this would be to the city of Chicago," Wheeler said.
Democrats said the unanimous vote two weeks ago came after the committee had recessed a hearing the day before about expanding gambling in Illinois. Nine lawmakers attended that hearing. At the next day's hearing on the Obama library, the chairman asked for a vote based on that attendance and no one objected. So a 9-0 vote was recorded. Several Republican committee members said they did not attend because no vote was expected.