A bill authorizing the use of $40 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to help complete Oklahoma City’s American Indian Cultural Center and Museum cleared the state Senate on Tuesday despite stiff opposition.
The vote was 30-17.
The bill will now head to the state House, where House Speaker Jeff Hickman has indicated it is likely to face even stiffer opposition.
J. Blake Wade, executive director of the entity developing the American Indian museum, said he is ready to face the House challenge.
“It’s going to be tough, but as you guys know, it was tough on the Senate side, too,” Wade said. “We really can get this finally completed, not only for all of the American Indian tribes, but for Oklahoma. Every Oklahoman will be proud of this project.”
Several senators, including some who voted against the bill, said they expect the project one day will be a world-class museum.
“I believe we’re going to be open in 2017, if we can get this bill passed,” Wade said. “I’ve got $40 million worth of donors that have been waiting almost three years to make sure that this is going to happen.”
State Rep. David Dank, the House author of the bill, said he likely will ask museum backers such as former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby to meet with Republican and Democratic House members in their closed caucus sessions to discuss the museum’s merits.
Dank said he hasn’t yet taken a straw poll of House members concerning their positions on the bill.
“I think it’s an ace,” Dank said of the museum’s potential.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, the museum was treated more like an albatross.
“Can you tell me how many broken promises have gone on with this project?” asked state Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, referring to the project’s troubled financial history in which supporters have repeatedly gone back to the Legislature to ask for more money to complete it.
“We’re going to take money that does not belong to us and give it to the Oklahoma money pit,” said state Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Choctaw. “I think it could be one day a great museum but, based on the amount of money we have spent on this so far and the place where it sits today, it has done nothing but suck money in.”
Clark Jolley, one of the Senate authors, said backers of the project have obtained $40 million in pledges from non-federal and non-state sources to match the state’s proposed $40 million contribution and finish the project.
Aldridge asked Jolley if he could assure him that museum proponents would “absolutely finish this project” and not come back later asking for more money if the Legislature authorizes the $40 million payment.
“There is nothing in the bill that says ‘Thou shalt finish this project for this dollar amount,’” Jolley acknowledged, but said he believes the leadership and oversight is in place to get the job done.
Jolley told senators if they rejected the bill, the state would have to keep paying $600,000 a year to secure the site while it remains mothballed, without getting anything in return.
The Senate bill would authorize that money for the project be turned over in two $20 million installments, with each installment only provided after equal amounts of the promised matching donations were received.
Wade said all 39 of Oklahoma’s federally recognized tribes have made financial pledges to complete the project, with their combined pledges totaling $7.4 million. The city of Oklahoma has pledged $9 million and the rest of the $40 million in matching funds would come from private pledges.
Construction on the frequently delayed project began in 2005. About $91 million has been spent so far, and backers say they need another $80 million to finish the museum.
How they voted
For: Roger Ballenger, D-Okmulgee; Randy Bass, D-Lawton; Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa; Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City; Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso; Corey Brooks, R-Washington; Sean Burrage, D-Claremore; Harry Coates, R-Seminole; Brian Crain, R-Tulsa; Kim David, R-Porter; Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant; Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee; James Halligan, R-Stillwater; David Holt, R-Bethany; Tom Ivester, D-Elk City; Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park; Rob Johnson, R-Yukon; Clark Jolley, R-Edmond; Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City; Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward; Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City; Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa; Susan Paddack, D-Ada; Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee; Wayne Shaw, R-Grove; Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City; Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa; John Sparks, D-Norman; Rob Standridge, R-Norman; and Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland.
Against: Cliff Aldridge, R-Choctaw; Mark Allen, R-Spiro; Patrick Anderson, R-Enid; Don Barrington, R-Lawton; Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton; Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate; Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow; Eddie Fields, R-Wynona; John Ford, R-Bartlesville; A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie; Ron Justice, R-Chickasha; Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa; Mike Schulz, R-Altus; Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore; Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa; Anthony Sykes, R-Moore; and Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Excused: Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow.