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February 10, 2014

Lawmakers debate fix for Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s been more than two years since yellow barricades and scaffolding sprang up outside Oklahoma’s Capitol building to protect visitors from mortar and pieces of limestone falling from it.

Inside, debate continues among lawmakers on how best to finance repairs to the nearly 100-year-old Capitol’s exterior, antiquated plumbing, electrical wiring and other features.

Some favor a bond issue to raise money for the repairs, which officials estimate could cost up to $160 million. Others support a pay-as-you-go approach that would tap annual state revenue and avoid creating new debt for the state.

Mixed into the debate are financing proposals for two other building projects; the half-finished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum on the banks of the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City and a proposed museum in Tulsa devoted to Oklahoma popular culture dubbed OKPOP. Each of those projects is estimated to cost about $40 million.

While lawmakers debate financing options for the projects, there is little debate about the need to repair.

“Each project is a stand-alone. Each one will have to be vetted and debated. Our priority, of course, has to be the state Capitol,” said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

“The main thing is we can’t ignore it any longer.”

“I don’t think anyone questions the need to make repairs to the Capitol building,” said Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, a candidate to succeed former House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who had opposed a bond issue. “It’s unsafe. It’s an embarrassment. Obviously, something needs to be done.”

Rep. Mike Jackson, speaker pro tem and acting speaker who is also a candidate to replace Shannon, said repairs to the Capitol are a higher priority than any other building project.

“The biggest issue, of course, is the Capitol building, and that does need to be addressed,” said Jackson, R-Enid.

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