MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 20, 2014

Panel votes to use state account to finish Native museum

$40M would be drawn from unclaimed property fund


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Legislature would tap $40 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to help complete a Native American museum in Oklahoma City under a bill that overwhelmingly cleared a Senate committee Wednesday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21-3 for the bill to finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum along the Oklahoma River. The state funding would match $40 million in private donations pledged by tribes, companies and other donors.

“All 39 Oklahoma tribes are excited and all Oklahomans should be that we took this giant step in the right direction today,” said Blake Wade, the museum’s executive director, who has helped secure the private pledges and shepherd various plans to complete the museum through the Legislature in the last two years.

Seven years after the start of construction, the sprawling $170 million museum at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 40 remains unfinished, but the Legislature has balked in recent years at providing more money.

But even longtime opponents of spending state money to pay for the museum praised Committee Chairman Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, for coming up with a way to fund it.

“No one has worked harder to get this done,” said Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, one of three members who voted against the bill.

The Unclaimed Property Fund includes things such as stock certificates, utility rebates, jewelry, coins and other valuables that are determined by the Oklahoma treasurer to be abandoned. The fund has a balance of $90 million, and the $40 million was determined earlier to be the amount it could afford to pay and still maintain sufficient reserves, a spokesman for the state treasurer said.

The bill next will be heard by the full Senate before it goes to the House, where its fate is uncertain. The House has been increasingly resistant to issuing bonds for the museum.