Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the governor of the Chickasaw Nation met with state House Republicans behind closed doors Monday to press their case for state funding to help complete construction of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.
“Basically what I was encouraging them to do was to finish the project — quit kicking the can down the road,” Fallin said after emerging from the meeting. “It’s important for the state to be able to get a resolution to do something on the native cultural center.”
The state Senate previously has voted to use $40 million in excess revenues from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to help complete Oklahoma City’s partially built American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.
The issue is now before the House, which has a vote scheduled Wednesday in its Appropriations Committee.
Although backers claim to have the 51 votes of Democrats and Republicans needed to approve the measure if it ever makes it to a vote on the House floor, House Speaker Jeff Hickman said that the Republican leadership doesn’t want to bring it up unless the 51 votes can be found in Republican ranks, alone.
“This is another one of those major issues where we would want to make sure there were 51 Republican votes,” Hickman said Monday.
Hickman said the bill will have to make it out of committee before that becomes an issue.
“I don’t know,” he said, when asked whether 51 Republicans would support the measure.
“Members are coming at it from a lot of different positions,” he said.
“Some of them are very much in favor and some very much opposed and some just aren’t sure how we fund it or when we fund it.”
House Minority Leader Scott Inman previously has said all 29 Democrats would vote for funding the center.
“I personally think that if we get it finished, it will raise up the whole state, not just Oklahoma City,” Gov. Fallin said, describing the cultural center as a potential “pearl.”
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said he also believes the cultural center has the potential to help the whole state.
The center can be used to direct visitors to attractions in other parts of the state, like spokes coming out from the center of a wheel, Anoatubby said.
Fallin said the cultural center was just one of several issues she discussed with House Republicans. Other issues included storm shelters for school children, pension reform, state employee salaries and education funding.
About $91 million has been spent on the museum so far, but builders ran out of money in July 2012.
Since then, the state agency that runs it has been paying about $68,000 a month to secure and maintain the site.
Backers say it will take $80 million to finish the museum, and they have $40 million in pledges lined up if the state will just provide the other $40 million.
Several lawmakers are upset that the museum remains unfinished, despite the state previously having appropriated money with the understanding it would complete the project.