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Gov. Mary Fallin's State of the State speech silent on plans for Oklahoma museums

Gov. Mary Fallin's speech doesn't cover the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City or the topic of building an Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa.
by Randy Ellis Modified: February 9, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: February 9, 2014
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Gov. Mary Fallin talked about many things this past Monday in her State of the State speech, but she was silent on two topics of intense interest to many Oklahomans.

She didn't say a word about any plans to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. She also didn't address plans to help fund an Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa.

Fallin didn't mention either project in her 209-page executive budget, either.

That doesn't mean she's no longer interested in the projects, said Alex Weintz, the governor's spokesman.

“On the cultural center, Gov. Fallin has said she supports a path to completion and is keeping all options on the table, including a bond,” Weintz told The Oklahoman. “That has not changed.”

“Regarding Pops, the governor has said if the Legislature chooses to send a bill to her desk authorizing the creation of the Pops Museum, she would absolutely consider signing it. That also has not changed,” he said.

By omitting the projects from her State of the State speech and executive budget, the governor appears to have signaled that she's looking to state lawmakers to assume the initiative.

Senate Majority Leader Sean Burrage said recently he believes the state Senate has the votes to approve funding for the American Indian museum, and he would like to see the Tulsa museum funded, as well.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he also would like to see the American Indian museum completed, but thought it would be difficult to get a bond issue to fund the two museums through the Legislature in light of the tight budget.

Bingman noted a plan to fund the American Indian museum with use tax receipts for three years and the Pops museum with sales tax revenues for four years was moving through the Legislature last year when it got derailed by the Moore tornado.

He said the decrease in general revenue fund money this year would make it difficult to revive that measure, so some other source of money may be needed.

The biggest obstacle could be in the House, where Republican state representatives have voiced strong reluctance to approve bond issues that would add to the state debt.

Scott Martin, House appropriations chairman, said he's not sure what to expect this year.

“I'm guessing that I'm not alone. I'm frustrated with the amount of money that's been spent on the cultural center and it's still not completed,” he said. “It's a sensitive subject and I'm not sure what the eventual outcome will be.”

He said most people would like to see it done, but are not sure where the money will come from.

Martin said the Pops museum is a little different, because construction hasn't begun on it.

“I think the project has merit to it, but I don't know if now is the time to do it or not,” he said.

Advocates of the two projects say failure of the Legislature to fund them this session could have lasting adverse consequences.

J. Blake Wade, chief executive officer of the entity developing the American Indian museum, said he has $40 million in private donations pledged as matching funds for a $40 million state contribution to complete the project, but said he doesn't expect the pledged private funds to remain intact following this session.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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