Budget Day: A Live Blog

Posted on: February 14th, 2011 by Jason Clement 1 Comment

Today, the Obama Administration will submit its FY 2012 budget request to Congress -- the first step in the complex process of funding the federal government. This live blog will track minute-by-minute our analysis of the President's recommendations as they relate to historic preservation.

Who's ready to make a budget?

[ 9:02 a.m. ] An enormous pot of coffee is brewing here in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Public Policy Department, where I'll be coming at you live all day as we pick through the President's budget request. And as I pour myself a generous cup of ambition (the first of many, I anticipate), one thought crosses my mind: Why must we release the budget on Monday of all days?

[ 9:14 a.m. ] A few swigs in and my synapses have (thankfully) started firing. Let's kick this off with a quick look at how the federal budget is actually made. Like most things in Washington, forming the budget is a complicated, multi-step process -- ten of them according to this interactive infographic detailing the process. Click through each slide, and you'll quickly get a sense of how today is just the beginning.

[ 9:28 a.m. ] Thanks to the severe beating preservation funding took in last year's budget request, the general mood here is to be prepared for anything. That being said, this zinger from a New York Times article published this morning just gave me goosebumps -- in a bad way: "The budget reflects Mr. Obama’s cut-and-invest agenda: It creates winners and big losers as he proposes to slash spending in some domestic programs to both reduce deficits and make room for increases in education, infrastructure, clean energy, innovation and research to promote long-term economic growth and global competitiveness." Yikes.

[ 9:35 a.m. ] Now for a bit of housekeeping. The Office of Management and Budget will post the President's budget request at 10:30 a.m. EST. This will be the first time anyone here sees the document, so our analysis will follow in bits and pieces as we comb through, page by page. Now, who's ready for some budget jargon?

[ 9:52 a.m. ] The news is churning in full force over the budget this morning. This quote from a Wall Street Journal article foreshadows the drastic cuts we'll know more about shortly: "Mr. Obama's budget, to be released Monday, calls for spending cuts and tax hikes that would slice about 14% of the approximately $8 trillion in cumulative federal deficits that would occur over the next 10 years without action being taken. It estimates the deficit will fall to $1.1 trillion next year as the economy picks up and the president's proposed spending freeze begins to have effect."

[ 10:08 a.m. ] Overheard in the Public Policy Department: "Morning. You guys ready for war?"

[ 10:25 a.m. ] Five minutes and counting. While we wait, let's do a quick flashback to last year's budget request announcement, when Save America's Treasures -- the nation’s only bricks-and-mortar historic preservation grant program -- was quite surprisingly placed on the chopping block. That, my friends, made for a very bad day at the office.

[ 10:41 a.m. ] It's posted -- all 200-something pages of it. Let the games begin.

[ 10:56 a.m. ] Two words: Oh boy.

[ 10:58 a.m. ] Just got this e-mail from Pat Lally, the National Trust's director of congressional affairs: "Save America's Treasures and Preserve America eliminated. National Heritage Areas reduced."

[ 11:07 a.m. ] The justification language for the cuts to Save America's Treasures and Preserve America: "These historic preservation grants to non-Federal entities provide mostly local benefits and while there have been many high quality projects, at least half of Save America's Treasures projects are annually earmarked by Congress, without using merit-based criteria. These programs contribute to community and State-level historic preservation and heritage tourism efforts, but in a time of difficult trade-offs funding is being focused on nationwide historic preservation goals, such as increasing grants-in-aid to States and Tribes to carry out Federal responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act."

[ 11:12 a.m. ] Sustainable communities seem to have fared well. Direct from the budget: "The Budget sustains support for the multi-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, one of the pillars of the Administration’s place-based agenda. The Budget includes $150 million to create incentives for more communities to develop comprehensive housing and transportation plans that result in sustainable development, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased transit-accessible housing. This amount will allow more communities to achieve these purposes, in addition to the over 100 grants recently awarded across the country by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency."

[ 11:22 a.m. ] Note: There is a lot of really frantic highlighting going down right now. Must analyze!

[ 11:24 a.m. ] Some good news from Denise Ryan, the National Trust's program manager for public lands policy -- the Challenge Cost Share Account has been restored in the budget. Now, did your eyes just glaze over? Don't worry; I'm right there with you. Denise explains (as she highlights): "Last year, the Administration proposed zeroing out this program, but thanks to vigorous advocacy by the National Trust and partner organizations, the Administration reinstated the funding program, which provides funding to the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service to leverage private funding and program support from groups that share the agencies’ missions to preserve natural and cultural resources. These grants allow citizen volunteers, universities, and researchers to do thousands of stewardship projects on public lands and national trails that would not otherwise get done by the agencies. For example, the Friends of Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona leveraged scarce dollars with the Bureau of Land Management to stabilize, preserve, and interpret the historic Teskey Home Site on Agua Fria National Monument in the National Landscape Conservation System. The Friends groups leveraged $24,171 in Challenge Cost Share funds with a $27,000 match in volunteer hours to save the site from vandalism, off highway vehicle damage, shooting, and continued misuse by visitors.

[ 11:33 a.m. ] Some good news for battlefields -- the American Battlefield Protection Program has been level funded at $10,000,000. This program promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil.

[ 11:38 a.m. ] The White House has posted an interactive breakdown of the budget (scroll down to the bottom of the page to launch it). For us visual learners, this shows quite clearly where the money goes.

[ 11:45 a.m. ] At noon, the Public Policy Department will meet for a debrief -- and you're coming with me. Thank you, wireless connection.

[ 11:50 a.m. ] This article from Politico.com says it all: “This budget has a lot of pain,” said Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in an interview Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The budget, he said, is a step along the path toward true fiscal belt-tightening. It “does the job, it cuts the deficit in half by the end of the president’s first term.”

[ 12:09 p.m. ] War meeting is now underway. Snacks offered include popcorn, pistachios, and Tums. Classic -- and telling.

[ 12:12 p.m. ] Gut reaction of the group is that the justification statement (see entry at 11:07 a.m. for full text) for cutting Save America's Treasures generally shows a lack of understanding for the program and what it does -- just like last year. At around 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, there will be a meeting on the Hill where we might learn more beyond the paragraph already provided.

[ 12:17 p.m. ] A great point was just made: By cutting this federal funding, we also lose the opportunity for millions in private funds. Save America's Treasures' work with the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, NC is highly indicative -- a modest federal grant of $150,000 eventually became over $20 million thanks to matching funds.

[ 12:28 p.m. ] A chilling question was just asked: What if the House goes deeper? Because of their laser focus on reining in spending, it is very likely. Pass those Tums, please.

[ 12:34 p.m. ] Though there was a 23% cut in preservation funding across the board, some important line items saw a nominal increase, namely State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. That's a big deal in today's tough economic climate. I'll get those numbers for you in a bit.

[ 12:48 p.m. ] The big meeting just wrapped up. I ran after Pat Lally, our director of congressional affairs, when everyone broke and got his top five take-aways: 1) President Obama will fund the key accounts for historic preservation at $18 million below current levels; 2) Save America's Treasures and Preserve America have been eliminated, while funding for National Heritage Areas have been slashed in half; 3) State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers were given very nominal increases -- $4 million for states and $3 million for tribes; 4) While these increases are good news in this beyond tough budget climate, they are long overdue and come at the expense of a 23% overall reduction in preservation funding; 5) it must be said that our friends in arts and culture took a severe beating this morning.

[ 1:35 p.m. ] How about a video over lunch? Fork in mouth, I just stumbled on this clip of Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, explaining how the President's budget will help the government live within its means. The stand-out quote to me: "We need to get from a place that is just unsustainable to a place where we can pay our bills."

[ 1:51 p.m. ] Note: The interactive graphic I mentioned at 11:38 a.m. has seemingly been co-opted and perfected by the good folks over at the New York Times. Check it out.

[ 2:24 p.m. ] The Department of the Interior budget in brief was just posted. This document summarizes and highlights the programs of the Department of the Interior as mentioned in the President’s budget request. The Public Policy folks are scanning it as I type.

[ 2:32 p.m. ] Big, big bump for cultural resources -- to the tune of many millions. Here's the blurb direct from the budget in brief: "The $7.9 million non-National Landscape Conservation System increase in cultural resources management will enhance the capacity of that program to preserve and protect cultural, historical, and paleontological resources. The Bureau of Land Management will accelerate progress in conducting surveys; stabilizing and restoring sites; expanding interpretive ac­tivities; and increasing outreach and partnership-building efforts to promote public investment in the management of the Nation’s cultural resources. The $15.0 million increase for the National Landscape Conservation System will address a range of priorities in these special units, including implementing resource management plans and conducting natural resource assessment, inventory, monitoring, and mitigation ac­tivities. This funding increase is allocated to benefit all categories of the National Landscape Conservation System."

[ 2:37 p.m. ] There's a pretty intense press conference on speaker phone right now, which opened with a zinger (which I'm paraphrasing): Tough decisions have been made to make this country competitive again.

[ 2:45 p.m. ] Good news for America’s Conservation Lands (again from the budget in brief): "The $15.0 million increase for the National Landscape Conservation System will address a range of priorities in these special units, including implementing resource management plans, and conducting natural resource assessment, inventory, monitoring, and mitigation ac­tivities. This funding increase is allocated to benefit all categories of the National Landscape Conservation System."

[ 2:50 p.m. ] Wow, a very important nuance regarding Save America's Treasures was just discovered in the budget in brief and then shouted over my cube wall: "Funding is not requested for Save America’s Treasures grants, which has contributed to community and state level historic preservation but will be reevaluated for the program’s contributions to national preservation efforts. This provides a savings of $25.0 million." Very interesting.

[ 4:10 p.m. ] Sorry for the radio silence, folks. It has been a busy hour (and some change). There's been a lot of chatter here today about the justification statement (scroll up to my entry at 11:07 a.m.) given for eliminating Save America's Treasures. I just got a note from Fiona Lawless, program manager for Save America's Treasures at the National Trust, with this explanation: "The budget justification to eliminate Save America’s Treasures claims it only supports local and state preservation efforts, and not national preservation goals. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Save America’s Treasures has a 12-year proven track record of successfully preserving our country’s iconic historic sites and collections, including providing more than $30 million to restore the cultural resources within our national parks. In fact, just to qualify for these very competitive grants, a project must be nationally significant. Save America’s Treasures is a model public/private partnership in which the federal government’s leadership leverages private matching investment, inspiring citizens, local businesses, and city and state governments to join in the shared responsibility of preserving our historic and cultural patrimony.  The elimination of Save America’s Treasures demonstrates a lack of understanding of historic preservation’s important role in creating jobs, attracting heritage tourism dollars, and spurring the economic revitalization of our downtowns."

[ 4:36 p.m. ] Regarding arts and culture (mentioned earlier has also having a bad day), here are some numbers: Both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities saw $22 million in cuts. Both were at $168 million for 2010, and are now proposed at $146 million in the President's budget request.

[ 5:06 p.m. ] That's a wrap for today. We'll be back very soon with more information and analysis about how today's budget recommendations affect historic preservation. Thank you for following.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for PreservationNation.org. He always gets really worked up during live blogs.

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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One Response

  1. Tyler Davis

    February 15, 2011

    Nothing short of depressing. I will be writing a letter to the White House.