Preservation Round-Up: The Budget Mania Edition

Posted on: February 11th, 2011 by Jason Clement

The budget is coming! The budget is coming! The budget is coming!

Well folks, Monday's the day.

At around 10:00 a.m. EST, we're expecting President Barack Obama's much-anticipated (read: widely-dreaded) budget request to drop on the Internet. That little jargon-laden PDF courtesy of the Office of Management and Budget will be step one in -- as one republican lawmaker put it -- the "largest set of spending cuts in the history of our nation."

Yeesh, that's a lot for a Monday morning.

However, the idea that the president's FY 2012 budget proposal could be yet another heart-stopper for us preservationists (quick: flashback to last February) should come as no surprise; for weeks, drafts of the administration's drastic recommendations have been bouncing around Washington like a bull in china shop. Late January was fairly emblematic of how this was shaking down. Even as $14 million in Save America's Treasures grants were announced at President Lincoln's Cottage, the program's fate in the work-in-progress budget was changing daily/hourly: It's in. Now it's out. Back in. Nope, out again.

This article does a nice job of summing up the fact that, for two years now, preservation funding has become quite familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the budgetary chopping block. I especially like this zinger from Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers:

The fact that the two programs [Save America's Treasures and Preserve America] are fighting for their survival is especially ironic, considering the $29.6 allotted to them is a pittance of the overall federal budget. Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, tells FedWatch she doesn’t know why preservation funding is being targeted, especially since it’s basically “decimal dust” in the grand scheme of things. “That’s something you’ll have to ask the bill drafters,” she says.

And sadly, the bad news isn't just at the federal level -- it's budget mania everywhere! Perhaps you've heard news from the Lone Star State, where Governor Rick Perry has proposed yanking funding for both the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts. Needless to say, only the word "draconian" is excited by the announcement, as it now has a new use-that-in-a-complete-sentence option for the dictionary. This great editorial makes a case against the cuts using the state's lauded courthouse restoration program as a poster child for preservation:

Consider the commission's highly successful Historic Courthouse Restoration Program. Initiated by Gov. George W. Bush in 1999, it provides grants to counties to restore their historic courthouses, gives new life to commercial districts and creates skilled, local jobs in the construction industry. Stan Graves, the program's director, says, "The Courthouse Restoration Program plants the seed for recovery in communities across Texas." Studies show that $1 million spent on rehabilitation of historic properties yields more local construction jobs, as well as more local income and retail sales, than new construction. In 12 years, the courthouse program has created 5,800 Texas jobs and nearly $40 million in state and local tax revenue. The proposed budgets eliminate this invaluable investment in our local economies.

The kicker? Just this week, Preservation Texas unveiled its latest endangered list, which includes this gem in Lubbock. As someone who bleeds orange and chokes up over bluebonnets, my fingers are crossed for you, Texas.

Now, back to Monday and the big picture. Because my eyes instantly glaze over when someone says "budget," I decided to seek the counsel of someone who is way smarter than me. Check out this quick Q&A with Pat Lally, our director of congressional affairs. He really knows his stuff.

Me: So, what is your gut saying about Monday? Should I wear a helmet to work?

Smart Person: National Trust President Stephanie Meeks and I went to the Hill yesterday, and at one point, we were waiting for our meeting in a reception room adjacent to the House floor where -- during votes -- Members meet with constituents, lobbyists, etc. It was like bedlam. There were dozens of Members meeting with crowds of people. Every other word I overheard was “budget,” “cut,” and “funding.” My gut is that Monday is going to be crazy. I hope that I’m wrong.

Me: What is our worst case scenario?

Smart Person: Our worst case scenario is cuts and eliminations across the board for preservation programs -- Save America's Treasures, Preserve America, State Historic Preservation Offices, Heritage Areas, cultural resource funding, etc. That being said, the more likely scenario is really not that much better -- elimination of Save America's Treasures and Preserve America with none of the cuts going back into other historic preservation programs. That would be a 38% reduction for preservation and the first major hit to our funding since the 1980s.

Me: What we’re getting on Monday is just a recommendation from the president, right? What happens next?

Smart Person: Yes, technically it is the president’s “budget request” to Congress, and it literally is sent up to the Hill – in normal years – every first Monday in February. While it is just a set of spending and programmatic recommendations, it gets the ball rolling in Congress through the spring on the appropriations bills the House and Senate must develop on their own and pass to fund the federal government. Most of the time, lawmakers give it limited attention. This time, though, they are hungry for cuts and will seriously consider many of the president’s spending reductions.

Me: Will Monday’s announcement trickle down to the states?

Smart Person: Theoretically, Monday’s announcement will have little practical effect on the states. But when Congress decides in the next few months how it will cue off the president’s proposal in cutting the budget -- and go even further in slashing spending as we expect -- well, I hate to say it, but the states are going to have to take up the slack as federal monies shrink...and things are only going to get tighter.

Me: What should be every preservationist’s elevator speech be in making the case for funding – and these programs?

Smart Person: Well, after the president’s budget plan goes to the Hill, the spotlight will be on the House, where the appropriations process will commence. So, our immediate strategy is there and geared toward a chamber that has already committed to cutting federal spending much more drastically than the president. Our one-minute speech there is: “We can live with reduced funding for historic preservation as you consider rolling back spending to 2008 levels, but we need to maintain current funding levels for State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and include some monies for Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America so they are not eliminated. We can’t go lower than 2008 levels, either.

For those of you who want to get in the weeds on this one, I'll be live blogging Monday in its dramatic entirety from a cozy little cube in our public policy department. Join me for a multimedia look at all the action and analysis.

And with that, it's time for a quick romp through that which is bubbling up. Shall we?

Let's kick things off where we left them on Monday: Motor City. It's no secret that times are tough there, but this article really puts it all into perspective: "Nearly one-third of Detroit -- an area the size of Boston -- is largely deserted." Included in that grim statistic is the city's iconic Cass Technical High School. Some words:

Cass Tech's architectural style is called industrial gothic. It is eight stories of gray brick, limestone and marble. For 90 years, as many as 4,000 students — ranging from John DeLorean and Ron Carter to Ellen Burstyn and Diana Ross — at a time attended school in the building. One of them was comedian and actress Lily Tomlin. Tomlin says Cass Tech made a lasting impression on her. "It was a very special school," she said. "You know, it could have been anything — housing or anything. I don't why they demolish these places to make a parking lot."

On the flip side, some historic schools are actually being saved this week. Check out this project by the Gallatin County Historic Preservation Board to save some really amazing one-room schoolhouses. Go get 'em!

In other news, DC is showing some love for its friendship archway, Portland Preservation is pondering how humans exert power over place (alliteration!), Charleston is keeping it real, the folks over at James Madison's Montpelier are getting really detailed, Seattle's 619 Western building ain't going nowhere, Woodlawn is thinking big, and protesters in Louisville are standing up for Whiskey Row.

Which brings me to today's parting shot(s). Inspired by this open letter to Saint Paul's Schmidt Brewery, here's my personal photographic ode to New Orleans' shuttered Dixie Brewery, which I am literally obsessed with.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for PreservationNation.org. He is already mentally preparing for budget-o-rama on Monday.

The Preservation Round-Up is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s twice-weekly digest of preservation news and notes from around the country. Got any tips? Shoot us a link on Twitter or Facebook.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

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