An Oklahoma state audit of the half-completed American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City released last week criticized the facility’s spending but found no financial wrongdoing.
The audit was ordered in April by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin after three lawmakers opposed to a $40 million bond issue for the facility called for the review.
Legislation authorizing bonds for the Indian museum failed by a single vote in the Senate.
The project has been financed in part with $58 million of proceeds from state lease revenue bonds issued by the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority and $6 million of federal stimulus funds allocated by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry in 2010.
Work began on the museum in 2005.
Museum director Blake Wade declared that the audit was good news for the project. “Overall, I’m very delighted that we have finally gotten through this state audit,” he said.
Wade halted construction on the museum July 1 when the funds ran out.
He said another attempt at a $40 million state bond issue will be made in the 2013 Legislature.
State auditor Gary Jones said the troubles began early as the board overseeing the project chose the costliest of six construction options presented by the architect.
“They decided to build a $169 million facility when only $5 million in funding had been secured,” Jones said. “Throughout the years, although additional funding was not forthcoming, the board maintained its commitment to the most expensive plan.”
Oklahoma has spent almost $100 million on the museum, the audit found, including $71 million for the building and more than $26 million to the agency for operations and debt payments.
The Oklahoma Legislature established the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority in 1994 to build and operate the museum. The agency receives $1.5 million a year from the state government for operations.
Fallin said the museum board is now on the right track and called for completion of the project.
“There are many factors that have led to these outcomes and the delays in the project’s completion have in turn wasted taxpayer resources due to increased materials costs, as well as delaying the generation of revenue,” according to the governor.
Oklahoma’s appropriations-backed debt carries ratings of AA by both Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s, and an equivalent Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service.