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Oklahoma Indian museum supporters remain hopeful

By: SEAN MURPHY
April 28, 2014 Updated: April 28, 2014 at 5:16 pm
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Supporters of a plan to spend $40 million in state money to help finish construction of a Native American museum in Oklahoma City said Monday they are trying to come up with a new funding plan after the original proposal stalled before a House deadline.

One idea being discussed is a three-year deal for $15 million in next year's budget, followed by $15 million in Fiscal Year 2016, and $10 million in 2017, said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City.

"That would be primarily from the Unclaimed Property Fund," Dank said.

Dank said some members of the GOP-controlled House would prefer funding the project through general appropriations, while others want to tap into the state's Rainy Day Fund. That constitutional reserve fund currently has a balance of about $530 million, but only a portion of that can be accessed by agreement between the governor and legislative leaders.

"I don't care where they take it from," Dank said.

The Senate earlier this session passed a bill that would have tapped $40 million from the state's Unclaimed Property Fund to match another $40 million in non-state funds, including contributions from private donors and each of the state's 39 federally recognized Indian tribes.

But supporters couldn't get the 51 Republican votes that House Speaker Jeff Hickman said he wanted before moving that proposal forward. As a result, the bill stalled by not getting a hearing before last week's deadline for floor action in the House.

Clay Bennett, the owner of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, issued a statement Monday urging Hickman to consider how much support there is to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.

Bennett, who also is a member of the museum's governing board, said the center would be a "source of pride for all Oklahomans."

Hickman said the latest three-year proposal was not discussed Monday during a Republican caucus meeting.

Seven years after the start of construction, the sprawling 173,000 square-foot structure along the banks of the Oklahoma River at the intersection of Interstates 35 and 40 remains unfinished, but the increasingly Republican Legislature has balked in recent years at providing more money to complete it.

Some lawmakers have expressed skepticism about the facility's troubled history, including numerous delays and cost overruns. The state already has spent $64 million through three separate bond issues to help pay for the project, which also has received funding from Oklahoma City and the federal stimulus.

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Follow Sean Murphy at https://twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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