- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A plan to tap $40 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to pay for the completion of a Native American museum in Oklahoma City cleared another legislative hurdle on Monday, despite concerns that the project won’t benefit taxpayers across the state.

A Republican-controlled House budget panel voted 8-2 to send the bill to the full House Appropriations and Budget Committee for a vote. The plan would use the $40 million from the state to match another $40 million in pledges from Oklahoma City, each of the state’s 39 tribes, and corporate and individual donors.

The Senate has already passed the bill, but House Speaker Jeff Hickman reiterated last week that he wants 51 of the 72 House Republicans to support the plan before he will schedule it for a vote in the House. The chamber’s 29 Democrats already have pledged to support the bill, but many House conservatives remain opposed to continued state funding of the project.

“How is this going to benefit all the parts of the state’s economy?” asked Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, whose rural district is more than 130 miles from the museum site along the banks of the Oklahoma River at the intersection of interstates 35 and 40.

Ortega and Rep. Dale Dewitt, R-Braman, opposed the bill.

Preparations on the 210-acre museum site began nearly two decades ago, and more than $95 million already has been spent on the project, which has been plagued with cost overruns and mismanagement.

Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, who sponsors the bill in the House, said the project is more than just a museum and will tell a critical part of Oklahoma’s story to the rest of the world.

“This is about us,” said Dank, who recalled the forced relocation of Indians from several tribes to modern-day Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. “This is about our heritage. This is about what we are as a state.”

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Senate Bill 1651: https://bit.ly/1nLlOZc


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