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Bond issue for Indian center is shaky, Oklahoma House speaker says

The only bond issue being seriously considered this session is one to repair and restore the state Capitol, said Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: April 29, 2012

A bond proposal to reboot the half-built $170 million American Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Oklahoma City continues to be a hard sell in the Legislature as lawmakers head into the final month of this year's session.

“At this point, I do believe that the only bond proposal that will be considered will be a proposal to repair, fix and maintain the state Capitol,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. “We're working on that particular proposal. We're not working on any other proposal at this time.”

Talks about a bond issue will get more serious as more attention turns to developing a budget and honing out a possible cut next year in the state's personal income tax rate.

Gov. Mary Fallin still supports funding the completion of the American Indian Center and Cultural Center and would support a bond issue as a mechanism for providing that funding, said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director. She has communicated that support to legislative leaders.

Key issue

A bond issue for the center could be a key issue in negotiations between House and Senate budget negotiators and the governor's office that are under way as lawmakers grapple with appropriating about $6.6 billion for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

They also are haggling over how much of a cut in the personal income tax — one of the state's key revenue sources; the GOP governor and Republican-controlled Legislature want a reduction next year in the personal income tax rate while Democrats mostly oppose it.

Legislators also are faced with deciding whether to increase the state's bond indebtedness — something the majority of conservative lawmakers oppose — by seeking bond issues for the state Capitol and other projects, such as the American Indian Museum and Cultural Center.

Lawmakers are required to wrap up their business by the last Friday in May.

Legislators have been reluctant to support bond issues the past couple of years. A Senate panel last year approved bond issues totaling more than $100 million for a building for the Veterans Affairs Department, a laboratory for the state medical examiner's office and to complete the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center but none were considered in the House of Representatives.

The American Indian Museum and Cultural Center announced earlier it has raised $40 million in private money to complete the project. Supporters of the center hope to finish construction and open the facility with $40 million in private contributions matched by $40 million in state funding.

The half-completed museum at the Interstate 40 and Interstate 35 junction has run out of funding. The state agency responsible for its completion has been trying to raise $80 million to complete the approximately $170 million project by 2014.

Any bond proposal for the American Indian and Cultural Center likely would have opposition from Tulsa members unless some type of financing is made available for a proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa. The center, in the concept stages for five years, would preserve stories of popular culture in Oklahoma.

Repairing the nearly 100-year-old Capitol appears to have the best chance of being financed this session, whether lawmakers approve a bond issue or appropriate some funds to make some of the repairs. It's estimated it will cost about $160 million to repair and restore the Oklahoma's crumbling building.

Covered scaffolding has been in place since September on the southeast entrance of the Capitol to protect those entering and leaving the building from falling pieces of limestone. Cautionary fencing also is in place along the south steps of the Capitol; those entering the building on the southeast side must use the handicapped entrance and walk under the 20-foot-long wood-covered scaffolding.

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