- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - While key legislators agree that it’s important for the state to complete work on the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum near Oklahoma City, there’s little agreement on how to pay for it.

Going into Monday’s legislative session, it’s not clear whether the state can scrape together $40 million to complete the project near the intersection of Interstates 35 and 40 - especially when Oklahoma faces a $300 million budget shortfall.

“Can we pull a rabbit out of our hat? Yeah, we probably can. But no matter what that rabbit looks like, somebody’s not going to like it,” Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond and chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said Friday.

Before Oklahoma was Oklahoma, it was Indian Territory and remains a home to 39 federally recognized tribes. To recognize its heritage, state officials two decades ago began planning a major attraction dedicated to Native American life.

Construction costs have totaled $90 million and the first patron hasn’t crossed the threshold. Another $40 million in mostly private funding has been lined up, but another $40 million is needed from the state.

Lee Allan Smith, who has helped raise private money, said a fourth year of failures at the Legislature may cause some people to back off their pledges.

“They’re kind of disappointed,” Smith said. “The $40 million is over if we don’t get it done this year, and $40 million is nothing to sneeze at.”

House Democratic leader Scott Inman said at an Associated Press forum this week that his 29-member caucus would support a bond issue, but such a plan would need the backing of at least 22 Republican House members.

The Democratic leader in the Senate, Randy Bass, said, however, that the state should not borrow money. It already is doing so to fix its crumbling Capitol building.

“A bond issue, to me, is kind of a little crazy when you’re $300 million down,” Bass said at the forum. “It’s like taking a pay cut and going in and charging all your credit cards.”

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said buying now and paying later wouldn’t work. “The will of the Legislature when we’re talking about bonding is not great,” he said at the forum.

Legislators appeared poised the help the museum in 2013 but diverted money for tornado relief after a deadly EF-5 storm devastated parts of Moore late in the session. The budget shortfall may keep legislators from revisiting the question.

“Budgetarily, this is not a good year to try to answer the problem,” Jolley said.

Rep. Paul Wesselhoft this week suggested Oklahoma dedicate 5 percent of its lottery proceeds to the museum - or $3 million annually based on current sales. If legislators lose interest in the museum, he said he’d introduce a bill to “tie a bow around it and give it to Oklahoma City,” which is amid major municipal development projects.

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Associated Press writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report.

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Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kisselAP


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