Bond issue to pay for American Indian Cultural Center won't pass Oklahoma Senate, two senators say

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: May 18, 2012
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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.

Democrats' viewpoint

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.

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