Rahm trying to borrow 1.2 billion for this?

I am stunned at the reason Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is seeking to borrow $1.2 billion, adding to the already crushing debt and debt-like pension liabilities his city faces.  Just last year, Chicagoans endured a $700-million tax hike, with many more to come as the pension promises come due.

It is not for anything that anyone could remotely term necessary with any honesty.  Roman circuses come to mind as an appropriate comparison.

Joe Kaiser of the Illinois Policy Institute reports:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to house the George Lucas museum near McCormick Place calls for $1.2 billion in borrowing. Emanuel’s plan would borrow the money from the state agency that runs McCormick Place, and tack on five future consumption tax hikes to the more than 30 taxes Chicagoans already pay, all to construct the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

Chicago has a plummeting credit rating and underfunded pensions, and the city’s instability combined with the continued threat of tax hikes is causing residents to flee.

In the midst of the city’s financial crisis, it’s hard to understand how the mayor expects to find room for another expensive pet project.


Emanuel must first persuade state lawmakers and the governor to allow his borrowing proposal. The mayor may need some Jedi mind tricks to convince state lawmakers the money is worth loaning, and to convince taxpayers to accept yet another tax hike.

Many of the taxes he proposes tapping are related to tourism, presumably the rationale being used for constructing this urban bauble.  But consider that many of the taxes will run for 50 years into the future.  Maybe George Lucas will still be a draw then.  But consider how many people would be drawn to a D.W. Griffith Museum – a once famous filmmaker whose time has come and gone.

The mayor’s proposal would extend five existing taxes past their current expiration dates to 2066, including:

  • Extending the 2 percent hotel tax instead of letting it expire in 2032
  • Extending the 2.5 percent hotel tax for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority past its current expiration date of 2060
  • Extending the 1 percent tax on downtown restaurants past its 2060 expiration date
  • Extending the 6 percent tax on car rentals past its 2060 expiration date
  • Extending the $4 fee on taxi rides out of O’Hare and Midway airports past 2060

If money were unlimited, this might be a nice attraction for Chicagoans.  But for a city soon to be unable to pay its bills without crippling tax hikes, it is unconscionable.  George Lucas is a multi-billionaire.  If anyone should pay for a museum honoring his life, it is he.

Update: Friends of the Parks, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving parkland and preventing development on it, has asked to have a voice:

We are pleased that the mayor and the City recently opened the door to Friends of the Parks for more direct conversation about the Lucas Museum. Our intent, as it always has been, is to protect, preserve and promote parks and to ensure that everyone has the best possible access to lakefront land, while encouraging the City to find the right spot for the Lucas Museum,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks. “We continue to seek more information and clarification as we engage in discussions with the City.

Hat tip: Peter von Buol