Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Unfinished Business at Oklahoma Capitol: Funding for American Indian Cultural Center and Museum Still Not Guaranteed

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Unfinished Business at Oklahoma Capitol: Funding for American Indian Cultural Center and Museum Still Not Guaranteed

Article excerpt

Along the Oklahoma River just east of downtown Oklahoma City, the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum sits unfinished.

Created in 1994, the center is supposed to be a focal point for Oklahoma's deep Native American history. Located near the intersection of two major interstate highways, the AICCM will draw visitors from across the globe, its supporters said.

Opponents call the center a white elephant that's already cost the state more than $80 million.

Blake Wade, executive director of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, which is developing the center, said $40 million in state funds is needed to match $40 million in private funding. Together, he said, those funds should allow for the completion of the museum and an opening sometime in 2017.

This year, lawmakers thought they had the problem solved.

Senate Bill 1651 would tap the state unclaimed property fund for $40 million to help finish the center. That fund, controlled by the state treasurer's office, contains money and other financial instruments that have been abandoned by their owners and turned over to the state. Lawmakers have used the fund before, and each year state revenue estimates include $10 million from the unclaimed property fund.

In the Senate, the bill proved popular, passing 30-17.

The House of Representatives, however, is another story.

The measure received support from Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who called on lawmakers to finish the museum in her State of the State speech, and the majority vote in the Senate. Yet many of the House's 72-member GOP caucus are less than enamored with the proposal. Just last week, state Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, announced a plan to gut SB 1651 and use the $40 million in unclaimed property funds for other state services.

Under Roberts' proposal, $20 million of the fund would be used to make repairs to the exterior of the Oklahoma state Capitol building and $20 million would fund kindergarten through 12th-grade schools.

"It is irresponsible to propose providing money to a questionable project that will primarily benefit Oklahoma City when we are struggling to provide adequate funding for education and for the repair of the 'People's House,'" Roberts said in a media statement. "The House of Representatives is trying to take a common-sense approach to spending. Our biggest priorities are and continue to be the education and safety of our citizens."

Roberts' proposal came after House Speaker Jeff Hickman told reporters the measure needed 51 yes votes from members of the GOP caucus before it could go to a House floor vote. As of Thursday, supporters of the bill were still several votes shy.

"The position that I've taken from the beginning is, as we do with major issues, is we always whip that to make sure there's 51 Republican votes before that would move forward," said Hick man, R- Fairview. …

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