Oklahoma legislative committees pass $25 million bond plans for Indian and cultural museums

Oklahoma legislative committees Thursday approved separate $25 million bond proposals to complete the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build the proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa.

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The Senate Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget voted 26-16 for the plan to complete the American Indian museum, which sits is on 67 acres along the banks of the Oklahoma River near downtown Oklahoma City. The measure was previously approved by a House committee.

Meanwhile, the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget voted 16-8 for a plan to build the popular culture museum, which has already been approved by a Senate committee. State lawmakers have rejected funding for the proposal in past years.

Both measures now move to the full House and Senate for consideration.

The American Indian museum is about two-thirds complete but has sat dormant since 2012, when the project ran out of money and the Republican-controlled Legislature refused to allocate new funds. Construction on the 173,000-square-foot structure began in 2006, and the state has already spent about $90 million on it.

"We have a project out there that's going to start deteriorating if we don't do something," said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, the measure's Senate author.

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House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, has said that under the Indian museum plan he authored, an additional 143 acres that surround the museum will be transferred to the city of Oklahoma City for economic development and all lease revenue would be used to operate the museum.

Once all state bond payments have been made, officials say the museum could be transferred to the city.

"We deal with this every year," Bingman said. "We have an opportunity ... to get the state out of this further obligation."

The state is already spending $7 million a year on the incomplete structure, $5 million for payments on bonds previously authorized for its construction and $2 million for security and maintenance of the structure.

Last month, the Oklahoma House began advertising a legal notice of proposed plans to complete the unfinished museum and a possible transfer of ownership to the city. But Bingman said the city hasn't yet agreed to the plan.

The proposal gives city officials until Jan. 15, 2016, to reach an agreement with the state, or the plan won't be put in place, he said.

Opponents of the proposal questioned whether the state can transfer the museum without violating the constitution, which prohibits the state from offering gifts.

Both museum projects are contingent on matching funds from the private sector.

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Online:

House Bill 2237: http://bit.ly/1HhR00S

Senate Bill 839: http://bit.ly/1IzsyXO