Enough votes are in hand to kill a measure that authorizes a $40 million bond issue to help pay for the completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City, two Republican senators said Thursday.
Sens. Patrick Anderson and Cliff Aldridge said enough state money has been spent on the project, which has been planned for nearly 20 years. They said they don't oppose the project, but Oklahoma taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for it.
Aldridge, R-Midwest City, said the cost of the project “has just gone completely out of control.”
Anderson, R-Enid, said the state has surpassed its original commitment to provide $33 million in funding for the center, which now has a price tag of about $170 million.
Anderson and Aldridge said they have signatures of 12 other Republican senators who have agreed to vote against a bill that would authorize a bond issue for the project. The measure is expected to come up on the Senate floor next week, they said.
The 16 Democrats in the Senate have earlier said they oppose any bond issue if there is a cut in the personal income tax rate. Republican legislative leaders and the governor announced Thursday evening they have reached an agreement to cut the state's top personal income tax rate of 5.25 percent down to 4.8 percent next year.
“I don't see how in the world that they're going to support a bond issue,” Aldridge said.
The 14 Republicans and 16 Democrats add up to 30 no votes for the bond issue in the 48-member Senate, Aldridge said.
He said he is disappointed that a bill calling for eliminating the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, the agency that was created 18 years ago by lawmakers to build the cultural center, would give the project instead to the Oklahoma Historical Society, and another bill requiring annual audits of the agency have not yet been brought up for a hearing in the Senate.
Blake Wade, chief executive officer of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, said private donors have raised $40 million and he's hoping the Legislature will agree to match that amount. The $80 million, he said, would be enough to complete the project; $50 million is needed to complete construction and $30 million is needed for museum exhibits and finishing site improvements.
Aldridge and Anderson suggested the state turn over the project to the city of Oklahoma City and let the city finish building it and then operate it.
“It is a state agency and the state needs to be responsible for what it started,” Wade said.
If the state turned over the cultural center to Oklahoma City, it would be giving up on an investment of more than $90 million in the building and land that is worth more than $20 million, he said.
“We hope that they'll understand that this is an opportunity to finally complete this so that they would start receiving the tax revenue off of that to pay this debt back,” Wade said.
The state has provided $67.4 million already for construction of the cultural center. In addition, the state appropriates $1.5 million to run the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority and $5.5 million in debt service payments for bond issues for the center.
GOP Gov. Mary Fallin backs a bond issue for the center, but many Republican lawmakers have expressed concern about supporting bond issues this year because it would increase the state's bonding debt. It would cost the state about $2.7 million a year to pay the debt service for a $40 million bond issue spread over 20 years and about $2.2 million for a 30-year bond issue.
Backers of the 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 the $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 Cultural Center and Museum 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.
House Democrats agree with Fallin and back a bond issue for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, but disagree with her on a bond issue to repair and restore the state Capitol; Senate Democrats have said they oppose any bond issue if there is a cut in the personal income tax rate.
The state started planning for the project in 1994. Then, the cost estimate was $100 million or about $70 million less than the current estimate.
In 1999, Oklahoma City donated the 300-acre tract of land. Construction began in 2005 after the Legislature approved a $33 million bond issue.
Funding dries up
When funds started to run out in 2008, legislators passed another $25 million bond issue.
Project officials said at the time they would raise the remaining funds through private donors. The Native American Cultural and Education Authority came back to the state in 2010 for more funds, but the Senate rejected a $43 million bond issue.
Then-Gov. Brad Henry found $6 million in federal stimulus money in 2010 to keep the project going.
Another request for a $40 million bond issue for the center again was rejected by the Senate. That prompted center officials to seek private donors to give $40 million with the promise that the state would match it.
“The Legislature has never made that commitment,” Anderson said.
In addition to state-authorized bonds, the federal government has contributed about $16 million, and tribal contributions have reached about $5 million.