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 receive a chilly reception.
State Rep. David Dank, the House author of the bill, said he hasn’t yet taken a straw poll of House members concerning their positions on the bill.
Dank said he likely will ask museum backers like 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.
“I think it’s an ace,” Dank said of the museum’s potential.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, it was treated more like an unwanted 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 history in which supporters have repeatedly gone back to the Legislature to ask for more money to complete it.
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 contribution and finish the project.
State Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Choctaw, asked Jolley if he could assure him 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.
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, which is to being built east of downtown Oklahoma City, near the Oklahoma River and the intersections of Interstate 35 and Interstate 40.