By SEAN MURPHY
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin joined with the leader of one of the state’s most powerful Indian tribes on Monday in an effort to convince House Republicans to support a $40 million plan to complete a massive Native American museum in Oklahoma City.
Fallin and Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby met behind closed doors with members of the House GOP caucus and urged them to support the bill to tap $40 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund. That money would be used to match a separate $40 million in pledges to finish construction of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, a project along the banks of the Oklahoma River that has been plagued with cost overruns and remains mothballed.
“Basically what I was encouraging them to do was to finish the project, quit kicking the can down the road,” Fallin said after the meeting. “It’s important for the state to be able to get a resolution and do something with the Native American cultural center.”
The bill already has passed the Senate, and all 29 of the House Democrats have vowed to support it, but new House Speaker Jeff Hickman said he wants at least 51 of the 72 House Republicans to endorse it first. A bill requires 51 votes for passage in the House.
The bill is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the full House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
“It has to get out of committee first before we even get to that point of deciding what to do with it on the floor,” said Hickman, R-Fairview.
Many Republicans maintain that funding a museum is not a core function of government, while other opponents complain about the $64 million the state already has spent through three separate bond issues to help pay for the project, which also has received funding from Oklahoma City and the federal stimulus.
Blake Wade, the museum’s executive director who has helped secure many of the private pledges, said he and supporters have commitments from 34 or 35 House Republicans and are working hard to get more.
“We’re working one by one and really trying our best to get as many of the 51 Republican votes that he is requesting,” Wade said, “and we hope that by our good faith and showing how many we’ll have that he will … let them vote, yes or no.”