Discussion on the state budget took a back seat at Friday morning’s legislative breakfast, as a proposition which could jeopardize funding for two Claremore museums was on the minds of all in attendance.
Sen. Sean Burrage, Rep. Marty Quinn, and Rep. Ben Sherrer corporately told attendees of their intention to fight HB 1667 — a proposition which, if passed into law, could drastically cut funding to the Will Rogers Memorial Museums and J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum.
“The big news at the Capitol this year is the budget, as everyone’s hearts,” Burrage began. “We’re down about $500-600 million, so that from a $6.8 billion budget — you can certainly do the math.
“The governor’s budget calls for three to five percent cuts on a lot of the agencies. Where those (cuts) will be in the end, we don’t know yet, but it is the biggest job — the most important — we’re doing at the Capitol right now,” he said. “Right now, I’m very concerned about several things, but I’d like to touch on the situation with the J.M. Davis Arms Museum and the Will Rogers Memorials. There is a bill by Rep. Leslie Osborn from Tuttle, and essentially, it cuts the funding for the J.M. Davis and Will Rogers (museums) by 15 percent for about six years. She says the purpose of this (bill) is to make those independent or private entities over those six years.
“This bill, in my opinion, is short-sighted — it’s a bill that assumes these crown jewels in Oklahoma are Claremore’s museums, when in fact, they’re the state’s museums,” he said. “I plan to work very hard against that bill if, in fact, it makes it to the Senate. I will do everything within my power, if this bill sees the light of day, to work on, if not kill it.”
Sherrer and Quinn followed Burrage, both of them touched on redistricting and an expected shift in representation at the Capitol from rural to more urban. However, discussions always turned back to HB 1667.
“It’s interesting that Rep. Osborn chose to go after the gun and the Will Rogers museum, rather than look for somewhere to cut costs in her own back yard,” Quinn said. “We want to be as economically efficient and responsible as we can (at the Capitol), and we understand that, when you look at the big picture — and which corners to cut funding to — there are thousands of those corners across the state. For Rep. Osborn to choose to attack, and it feels like an attack our museums that’s very hard not to take personally.”
Quinn added his use of the term “our museums” wasn’t a reference to Claremore, although the city benefits from having the two world-class museums in its city limits, but rather, he was referring to the museums as belonging to the state of Oklahoma.
“Living here, we think of these as being ours, being Claremore’s, but they’re really crown jewels not just of the city, but of the state,” he said. “To endanger them with this bill as Rep. Osborn is proposing is to endanger the attractiveness of Oklahoma as a tourist destination, particularly to the innumerable number of people who travel Route 66 every year. I concur with my colleague (Sen. Burrage) with the assessment that this (bill) is extremely short-sighted.”
Quinn said he’s currently gathering data on the economic impact of the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum and the Will Rogers Museums on the state.
“I would encourage everyone to get involved in fighting this (bill), should it get any further,” he said. “Talk to people at your churches, your jobs, your schools. The revenue stream generated by these museums doesn’t just affect Claremore, it affects the entire state. To phase out the (state) appropriations which help maintain the museums would be to put both of these priceless museums in danger.”
Legislators concluded the breakfast with a brief question and answer session.