New Illinois budget includes $224 million for Obama Presidential Center

New Illinois budget includes $224 million for Obama Presidential Center

The state’s fiscal year 2019 budget is out of balance by as much as $1.5 billion.

Projects relevant to the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park will cost taxpayers $224 million, according to the Washington Examiner.

This includes $174 million for roadwork in and around Jackson Park and $50 million for renovations to the Garfield Green Line station, two miles from the presidential center. Illinois taxpayers will be on the hook for $199 million of the total cost, with $25 million of the Garfield station renovations funded through a federal grant, according to the Washington Examiner.

Unfortunately, Illinois taxpayers would have no way of knowing this money was flowing to the presidential project from looking at the state’s 1,245-page budget, which makes no mention of the Obama Presidential Center. That spending is hidden, but has been confirmed by political figures such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Illinois’ state budget might not be the only source of taxpayer money for the center. Chicago residents may face a property tax add-on, as the General Assembly amended the state’s Museum Act in 2016 to permit such a tax to help finance the center. Alterations to the Museum Act also allowed lawmakers to grant the parkland transfer to the Obama Foundation. That transfer is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Protect Our Parks. Protect Our Parks claims the city and the Chicago Park District broke state law through their transfer of the parkland, and also argues using tax money for the center’s construction is compelled political speech and a violation of the First Amendment.

Hidden money for the Obama Presidential Center is a consequence of the state spending plan’s opaqueness. The negotiating process in drafting of the budget took place outside of public view and state senators were given five hours to read the massive document before taking a vote. By the Illinois Policy Institute’s estimate, the spending plan exceeds realistic revenue estimates by as much as $1.5 billion.

Given the secretive manner in which the spending plan came to be, hidden money should not come as a surprise. Bad budgeting basics in Illinois have plagued taxpayers for too long. If the state wants to set itself on a better path forward, lawmakers must provide truly balanced budgets and embrace transparency in the budget making process.

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