Obama Budget Would Kill Historic Preservation Programs

Ellis IslandPresident Obama warned the nation that we would have to sacrifice like a family on a budget in order to get the economy moving. Still, he's shocked historic preservationists by recommending in his latest budget to flat out kill the Preserve America and Save America's Treasures programs. Both help local communities preserve historic gems through grants and other support.

The programs have restored and protected sites in every state (find one near you), including Ellis Island in Manhattan and Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Wisconsin home.

Has some Washington bean counter lost his damn mind? Or has someone forgotten how a restored public building or private home can contribute positively to a local economy?

While historic preservation protects our architectural heritage, it also contributes to the economy's bottom line. Studies have shown it boosts the economy in at least three ways: through the economic activity sparked by construction, restoration, and rehabilitation; by generating more money for local governments through property taxes assessments that increase in tandem with higher-valued real estate; and by keeping more money in the community.

With all the good historic preservation does for buildings, homes, and the local economy, why the move to dismantle these programs, which account for a full quarter of our nation's overall Historic Preservation Fund (HPF)? The answer may be found in the unusual way the programs are funded.

Save America's Treasures, for example, has strong bi-partisan support in Congress and "has saved over 1,200 of America's most significant places in all 50 states, supporting jobs and economic development in every single project it covers," writes Pat Lally at PreservationNation.org. Ironically, the proposed cuts come just as a grassroots movement emerged to get the HPF fully funded.

In fact, the Save America's Treasures program includes a requirement for private matching funds -- creating a public-private effort backed up by the local community willing to fund a particular historic preservation project.

Here's the "little secret" behind the funding of HPF: It isn't paid for by you and me, the taxpayers. The Historic Preservation Fund is actually funded by taking a small cut from revenue received from offshore oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf.

As Lally explains,
Years ago, Congress had the foresight to place historic preservation in this dedicated account along with other "conservation" activities. Their rationale was that as non-renewable resources are expended (such as fossil fuels), some of the associated revenue should help pay for the conservation and preservation of other non-renewable resources, such as sensitive ecosystems and nationally-significant buildings, collections, and objects.
Predictably, over the years those funds have been allocated to other projects. Now that Obama has proposed slashing the HPF budget - and killing two of its programs altogether - where will the money come from?

Since these funds never came from the taxpayer in the first place, it appears that our American family won't be tightening our collective belt as much as giving up a "luxury".

But is it fair to call preserving our architectural heritage a "luxury?"

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