The Oklahoma Constitution reports that the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority is returning to the feeding trough in their fourth attempt to get the state legislature to increase funding the NACEA claims is needed to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.
Oklahoma taxpayers have already provided $63 million for the construction and more than $26 million to the agency for operations and debt service. Last November, the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority (NACEA), the state agency created to develop the facility, announced their plan: “We are currently preparing to return to the Oklahoma Legislature to pursue funding for The Center. We will be seeking $40 million to match pledges of $40 million in private, tribal and local government support.” That would bring the total price of the project, including federal, state, local, and private funds, to $173 million, not including future interest on the bonds.
State bond debt payments on the project have been running $5.5 million per year. If the additional funding is approved, this will rise to almost $9 million.
As with so many other government projects, this one hasn’t worked out as planned. The initial bond was meant to cover the full costs of the project, but the money ran out in 2007 after completing the parking lot and the shell of the main building. It has remained in this embarrassing state ever since. No doubt, thousands of families anguish, year after year, wondering when the AICCM will be completed, so that they can schedule their long-anticipated family trip. “Sorry, kids. Not this year.”
I have thought of a solution. Anyone who has driven for more than an hour on the highways of Oklahoma has seen tribal casinos in varying sizes, ranging from a small mobile home to a Vegas-style colossus, such as Downstream Casino, where I dined last night. None of these structures required taxpayer funding. Some of the largest did not start out large, but had humble beginnings. As the slots revenue poured in, a temporary structure would be replaced with a small permanent structure, and it would then be replaced with a larger structure, and then you’d suddenly start seeing construction cranes.
Let us try this approach with the AICCM. Start our with a small facility — something like The Standing Bear Museum and Education Center in Ponca City. If the tribes are so inclined, perhaps they could chip in some of their casino revenues. Then when visitors break down the doors to get at all of that wonderfully displayed American Indian culture, maybe the NACEA will be justified in building a larger facility.
Plan B would be to fill the existing incomplete shell with slot machines. The existing debt would be paid off in a matter of months.