House advances 3-year moratorium on public art

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 09-Mar-2011

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted today (Wednesday, March 9) to temporarily end a state law that requires millions of tax dollars to go to “art” projects.

“It is difficult to justify spending millions on public ‘art’ at the same time schools are facing funding cuts and the Department of Corrections is furloughing workers,” said state Rep. Leslie Osborn, a Republican from Tuttle. “Government needs to focus on its core functions, and this legislation will free up more money for those purposes.”

House Bill 1665, by Osborn, would eliminate the Arts in Public Places Act for the next three years. Under current law, anytime the state has a building project or renovation costing $250,000 or more, 1.5 percent of the cost must be dedicated to “public art.” The cost of that “art” can be as much as $500,000 per project.

Those expenditures are occurring, critics note, even as the state faces a $500 million shortfall just one year after grappling with a $1.2 billion shortfall.

The art law recently drew attention after the state paid a reported $450,000 to mount large rusted disc blades in front of the new Office of State Finance at 30th and Lincoln.

House Bill 1665 passed out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a bipartisan 69-20 vote, and now heads to the Senate.

H.B. 1665 was, however, another target for a band of conservatives who are working on certain votes with a unified Democratic caucus to deprive legislation of the “emergency clause” that would make a measure effective immediately after the chief executive’s signature.

State. Rep. Mike Reynolds, who has been an ardent critic of public art expenditures like the State Finance Office blades on Lincoln, voted for the measure on the merits this morning. So did state Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow. However, the pair voted no on the emergency clause just a few minutes later.

State Rep. Mike Christian backed the bill, but missed the vote on the emergency clause three minutes later.

In this case, state Rep. Randy Terrill voted both for the measure and for the emergency provision. The emergency failed 61-26, with 14 members of the House “excused” from voting.

A small band of Republicans, ranging from four to seven members, have managed in some cases to keep the emergency provision out of bills as they move through the House. Earlier today, Republicans managed to get the votes needed to put the emergency clause into a bill relating to teacher tenure.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.