AFTER years of stop-and-start progress, the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum may be nearing the finish line. A Senate budget committee has voted to fund the museum's completion by earmarking $40 million in use taxes over several years. Use taxes are paid on out-of-state and online purchases in lieu of sales taxes, primarily by businesses, bringing in more than $200 million per year.
Under the plan, $15 million in use taxes would be directed to the museum in fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, 2014. The following fiscal year, another $15 million would be provided; $10 million would be made available in fiscal 2017.
Completion of the project is preferable to the current state of affairs. It now sits half-built, a multi-million-dollar eyesore funded by taxpayer dollars without generating taxpayer benefit. Should lawmakers fail to act, the site will become dilapidated and an evermore noticeable black eye for Oklahoma City.
This funding plan isn't without flaws. A simple bond issue would have been better. It would have provided the $40 million almost immediately, which would be matched by $40 million in private donations. This would allow for swift completion of the museum.
Under this plan, final funding won't be available for three years. Construction costs could increase during that time, meaning additional state funding may be needed in the future. Still, doing nothing wasn't an option.
It's also problematic that the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum has been effectively tied to funding the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture (OKPOP) in Tulsa. Politically, that's understandable. Logistically, it makes less sense. We have no problem with OKPOP, but we think lawmakers should first finish the American Indian museum before breaking ground on another project. A separate bill earmarks $40 million in sales tax revenue for construction of OKPOP, spread out from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2018. The possibility of increased costs over the next four years is again a very real possibility.
We've long supported the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. It could draw tourists from across the globe to Oklahoma City with ancillary economic benefit for the community. It's hard to justify spending $80 million in taxpayer funds on the museum to date only to leave it to rot. This funding plan isn't perfect, but nears the museum closer to completion. That's a goal lawmakers should support.
We urge House members to get behind the latest iteration of plans for the Oklahoma City museum and OKPOP. We also urge the full Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin to endorse the effort as the 2013 legislative session comes to a close.
It's time to shore up the substantial private funding pledges for the Oklahoma City and Tulsa projects by signaling that state government is committed to finishing the job.