The taxpayer bill for the Obama Center to be built on Chicago’s Southside now appears to be $224 million, not $172 million as initially reported, and it’s certainly not privately funded as initially promised.
And how many Chicagoans know they may be subject to a special property tax, in addition to those amounts, for the center?
The elements of that $224 million are described in a Washington Examiner article yesterday. We shouldn’t be surprised because funding was stuck into the new Illinois budget — over 900 pages presented to the General Assembly only hours before being voted on it. It’s only now being read closely.
My monthly article in Crain’s, written early last week, is a polite request to former President Obama to turn down public funding and raise the money himself. Scratch that. With more known and public anger rising, a demand is in order, and maybe the whole project should be scrapped.
The public has been bamboozled. To see why, you should first understand what’s nicely laid out in the federal lawsuit filed last month by Protect Our Parks, a not-for-profit.
That lawsuit is focused mostly on how the transfer of parkland for the center to the Obama Foundation trampled state law. The case looks strong. The complaint is in plain English and straightforward so you can read it yourself. Jackson Park is among the finest parks in Chicago and beautiful by any city’s standards. Some of it is being taken for the center with no compensation.
To get the parkland transfer properly authorized, Springfield amended the state’s Museum Act to cover the center, which the complaint describes. That’s how authorization for additional property taxes also resulted because the Museum Act provides for that. See paragraph 119 of the complaint.
That tax money forms the basis of a First Amendment claim, which is also in the complaint. The First Amendment not only protects free speech, but has also frequently been used to strike down “compelled speech.” Using taxpayer money for political purposes can be challenged as compelled speech. (Coincidentally, compelled speech is also central to the Janus case on forced public union membership, an important decision on which will come this month.)
Why would the Obama Center be compelled speech? That’s where the “bait and switch” happened, which is the phrase used in the lawsuit. A presidential library became Obamaland.