Lawmakers Divided As Senate Defeats Funding For American Indian Cultural Center

Thursday, May 24th 2012, 9:57 pm
By: News 9

Lawmakers are divided on the decision not to fund a $40 million bond issue to finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.

The dream for the center was born nearly 20 years ago. The center is still far from being complete. Now that the Senate has denied more funding, many are wondering if this dream will ever be realized.

From the start, there had been excitement. Many political heavyweights including two former governors and Gov. Mary Fallin support state money being used to finish the center. But, that's not good enough. A bond issue that would have likely finished the site was struck down by a narrow 24 to 22 vote in the Senate on Wednesday.

"I think it's a monument to government waste," said Sen. Greg Treat.

Treat is a Republican who serves portions of Oklahoma City. He voted against the funding.

"We're just trying to find a way to finish the project," said Sen. Brian Bingman, who voted in favor of the bond issue.

5/17/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Senators Renew Opposition To Museum Bonds

Lawmakers who oppose the funding say too much money has already been dished out. Treat says the original cost of the center was to be no more than $50 million. Now, the state is looking at about $175 million.

"They never had a plan on how to finish the thing, so it's kind of been laid in our lap," Bingman said.

Treat agrees that there was never a solid plan, but disagrees with Bingman over who should pay.

"[On] both previous bond issues, [leaders from the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum] said that's the last state money they needed," Treat said. "Now they ask, ‘Trust us now, this is truly the last money.' I think we have to hold them accountable."

Although Bingman thinks the project could have been managed better, he says the state still needs to take care of its own issues.

"People don't realize this is a state agency," Bingman said. "The tribes did not ask for this. [It's] something that the state started, and the state needs to find a way to finish it."

Bingman also supports looking at ways for funding to come from different sources, including the private sector.

It is important to note that because of term limits, none of the current legislators were in office when talks of the center began. Attempts for more funding will need to wait until the next legislative session.

News 9 contacted the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum on Thursday, but no one would not comment for this story.