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Okla. House panel approves $40M Indian museum plan

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 9, 2014 at 9:34 pm •  Published: April 9, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A plan that would spend $40 million of the state's Unclaimed Property Fund to complete the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum got the blessing of an Oklahoma House committee Wednesday, but it remained uncertain whether it would go to a vote before the full House.

The House Appropriation and Budget Committee vote 16-10 for the measure despite concerns by some lawmakers that completing the unfinished museum is not a priority for the state and that the money should be used to fund salary increases for teachers and state workers.

"This is a no-win situation," said Rep. Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa. A vote for the proposal would ignore other needs at a time when the state is facing a $185 million budget shortfall, but a vote against it would mean the unfinished structure, located at the intersections of Interstate 35 and 40, would remain empty.

"And the blame will be on this Legislature," Watson said.

"We can't afford it this year. That's the bottom line," said Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore.

The plan would use $40 million from the Unclaimed Property Fund to match another $40 million in pledges including $7.4 million from Oklahoma's 39 federally recognized tribes, $9 million from the city of Oklahoma City and donations from various private and corporate donors.

But Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman, of Fairview, has said he wants 51 of the 72 House Republicans to support the plan before it could go for a vote in the House. The chamber's 29 Democrats have pledged to support the bill, but many House conservatives remain opposed to continued state funding of the project.

"It has become a folly," said Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa. The project, conceived 20 years ago, has already received about $95 million in funding, including about $60 million from the state, but has been plagued with cost overruns and mismanagement.

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