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Oklahoma Democratic leader calls for museum vote

By: TIM TALLEY
April 10, 2014 Updated: April 10, 2014 at 5:46 pm
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma House's top Democrat on Thursday called on the chamber's Republican leaders to schedule a vote on whether to provide funding to complete the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum in Oklahoma City.

House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Oklahoma City urged the full House to take action a day after the House Appropriations and Budget Committee approved a plan to take $40 million from the Unclaimed Property Fund to complete the unfinished structure.

"We believe it deserves a vote on the House floor," Inman said. But Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman of Fairview has said he wants 51 of the House's 72 Republicans to support the Senate-passed measure before it would be scheduled for a vote in the House.

"That is an unreasonable bar," Inman said. The House's 29 Democrats support the bill, but many GOP conservatives in the House are opposed. The House committee passed the measure 16-10 Wednesday evening with Republicans casting all of the no votes.

Hickman said it is not uncommon for members of the House's majority caucus to determine the level of support legislation has among Republicans before it is brought to a vote. And some members of his caucus believe other spending priorities should be dealt with before taxpayer dollars are spent on completing the museum.

"Our caucus doesn't believe the timing is right to do that," Hickman said. "Everyone believes we have to do something. We're still continuing to work on plans and alternatives."

The proposal to tap $40 million from the Unclaimed Property Fund would be matched by another $40 million in pledges from Oklahoma's 39 federally recognized tribes, the city of Oklahoma City and donations from various private and corporate donors.

Supporters have said that the museum, located along the Oklahoma River near the intersection of major Interstates 35 and 40, will be a world-class attraction that will attract thousands of visitors and energize the state's economy.

Land surrounding the 173,000-square-foot structure will support hotels, restaurants, shops and a variety of other commercial developments that will support operation of the museum, officials have said.

But Hickman said many House Republicans are looking for alternative funding plans to complete the museum. The state is facing a $185 million budget shortfall this year and has many other spending priorities, including raises for state employees and teachers and more funding for public school classrooms.

"The timing couldn't be worse with the budget that we have and the critical needs we have," Hickman said. "They would like a second option. We've spent countless hours brainstorming."

Meanwhile, Gov. Mary Fallin thanked members of the powerful House budget committee for keeping the funding plan for completing the museum alive and passing other legislation she supports, including a Senate-passed bill that would authorize a $160 million bond issue to repair the nearly 100-year-old state Capitol building.

"These measures are certainly worthy of further consideration this session," Fallin said in a statement. "I appreciate members of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee working long hours to discuss and act on these bills."

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