Indian museum funding omitted from state budget agreement

The future of Oklahoma City’s partially built American Indian Cultural Center and Museum received a crushing blow Friday. The governor and legislative leaders announced they have reached a state budget agreement and it includes no money to help complete the star-crossed project.
by Randy Ellis Published: May 16, 2014
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The future of Oklahoma City’s partially built American Indian Cultural Center and Museum received a crushing blow Friday.

The governor and legislative leaders announced they have reached a budget agreement, and it includes no money to help complete the project.

“If this result stands, it will haunt my community for years, and it should haunt the legacy of those in this building who could have done something about it,” said state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City.

Lawmakers had been asked to come up with $40 million in state funds that could be used to match $40 million in pledges to complete the $170 million museum.

The state Senate, with support from the governor, approved a bill that would have paid the state’s portion from the Unclaimed Property Fund.

House members refused to go along.

Omission called ‘disappointing’

Oklahoma City civic leader Lee Allan Smith called the House’s refusal a “slap in the face” to Devon Energy, Continental Resources Inc., Chesapeake Energy Corp. and all the other companies and community leaders who pledged matching funds because they believe the museum is important to the state.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s disappointing. It’s mystifying,” said Smith, who spearheaded the effort to obtain pledges from private donors.

Smith said it makes no sense that the House would want to continue paying $5 million a year in bond payment on an empty building when it could pay to finish the project and start receiving revenue back to pay off its investment.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman said it was a matter of priorities for House members.

“We simply weren’t able to get agreement,” Hickman said.

“I think the main issue was the budget issue we found ourselves in and the priorities of the House, particularly to address funding for education and for state employee pay.

“We know we have to do something with that facility at some point and that’s our intent. We just don’t have a plan today to be able to do that,” he said.

Bigger problem ahead?

Smith said he was told many rural House members opposed the project because they questioned how it would help their communities.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau 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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