Preservationists Say If Perry Kills Historical Commission, He Could Also Decimate Future

Categories: Preservation
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Flickr user: Nicholas Henderson
It hasn't been easy reaching a preservationist in this state in the last couple of hours. Or in D.C., for that matter. Not since Governor Rick Perry announced earlier today that in order to save the state some money, he's proposing the elimination of the Texas Historical Commission, at least during the next two-year budget cycle.

The Texas Historical Commission plants those historical markers. It makes sure that the more than 234 historic courthouses remaining in the state remain upright. It helps maintain Texas's entries on the list of National Register of Historic Places. And, among its myriad other duties, it oversees the distribution of the federal historic preservation tax incentives that help fund the rehabs of old, abandoned downtown buildings.

There's the theory going around that Perry wants the THC torn down as revenge for its holding up plans to redo the burned-down Governor's Mansion. Maybe, maybe not. He's not saying. The THC is but one of several agencies the governors wants eliminated, temporarily and permanently, including the Texas Commission for the Arts, whose supporters are equally outraged.

But preservationists have been on conference call after conference call all afternoon because they're terrified Perry's proposal will "significantly" stall out renovation projects statewide, including the recently announced plans to rescue the old U.S. Post Office and Courthouse downtown.

"From a financial standpoint, all of the tax-credit projects -- which means, most of the renovations that have taken place in downtown in the past decade -- would be significantly delayed by ... well, as long as there's no funding to the agency," says Katherine Seale, executive director of Preservation Dallas. "Tax credit projects that are in line, tax credit projects that are currently working through the process and projects that are eligible, they wouldn't get their federal 20-percent tax credit -- or it would be significantly delayed. If the agency were eliminated, there would be no process for them to work through to get their 20- percent tax credit, which these projects depend upon."

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 says that every state must have a historic preservation office, and one of the THC's responsibilities involves processing those investment tax credits. Mark Wolfe, the exec director of the THC, tells Unfair Park this evening that he's unaware of any state ever eliminating its state preservation office. Which means he's not quite sure of the ramifications when it comes to doling out federal funds. Or whether eliminating the THC would violate the federal act outright.

"At this point, I don't know what it would mean to owners who would quality for tax credits," he says. "There may be some other mechanism where they could apply directly through the Park Department or another entity, but that's not in place at the moment. The National Historic Preservation Act does require states have preservation offices -- or at least provide certain functions -- and it offers some cash incentives. We are a partially funded mandate, you could say. But those services would need to be provided at some level by the state."

Seale calls today's announcement a "major shock."  Which isn't to say preservationists were completely unprepared: In recent weeks, she says, word has circulated throughout the state that some cuts to some programs were inevitable -- they have, after all, been proposed in budgets prepared by both the state House and Senate. But eliminating the entire agency? Today was the first any of them had heard of it.

"I don't think anyone saw this coming," Seale says. "In the past month we've heard a lot of discussion about major cuts to these state agencies like the Texas Historical Commission, and so everybody was preparing for how we would work with a very much reduced agency. But nobody heard anything about eliminating the agency altogether. It really caught everyone off guard.

"And it's really troubling, because the Texas Historical Commission oversees the Section 106 process, which is that federal process that all preservation projects have to abide by for anything that involves government spending," she adds. "So any roadway projects, any building projects, any courthouse projects, anything that uses any state funding would be eliminated or delayed."

Wolfe is trying not to panic; as THC spokesperson Debbie Head told me earlier today, "This is just a starting point," after all. The THC's exec director expects to begin meetings with members of the state Legislature and Perry staffers to go over each of the agency's projects and decide which are crucial and which can be temporarily suspended.

But one thing is clear, says Wolfe: Perry's mandate "would mean the termination of a number of programs, and that's where this takes us -- to sit down with appropriate folks and walk through that program list and make some decisions. In the House and Senate budget versions we may already have to eliminate a number of those programs."

Among those that will likely be the first to go: the Texas Heritage Trails Program, a tourism initiative whose origins date back to Gov. John Connally.

"A lot of work still needs to be done, and I understand the position the state is in," Wolfe says. "The state of the economy is dire, and we need to recognize our agency and others will have to give something in order for things to be worked out, and we are prepared to do that. We hope we can work out an agreement that'll leave the agency with its core programs and some we'll have to do without for a period of time. The agency is not funded for two years. But others are being combined or eliminated. This one is proposed for no funds in the next two years, which leave the door open for the future."
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17 comments
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Jason A Clark
Jason A Clark

We can still save the Texas Historic Commission! I encourage everyone who wants to save our history to sign the petition to let the Governor and Congress know that de-funding the THC is a terrible choice - http://www.change.org/petition...

Phil  W
Phil W

What happened to the rainy day fund that perry won't touch? I didn't vote for him and will not if he runs for higher office.....

Dianebirdwell
Dianebirdwell

Thanks, Texas Democratic Party, for giving us four more years of an idiot who has no sense of history. No energy to motivate voters, no real front-running, exciting challenger to go against the most anti-What -Texas-Stands-For in history. I hope when Perry is at the Pearly Gates, it is a toll-booth operated by a Spanish company...and he forgot to bring corect change.

chevytexas
chevytexas

Yeah, I'm like the others who replied to you: I get your dissatisfaction with Texas Democrats but quite frankly, they're not the culprits here (except for those who voted for Perry). However, I understand your frustration; that said, the same gang is in Austin aside from the Governor, so this could've happened anyway, not that it has --yet.

Guest Reader
Guest Reader

I guess I don't get it. Rick Perry is a republican. The republicans elected him.

El Rey
El Rey

Many Republicans held there collective noses and voted for Perry because the Dems didn't give us a better option. Give us a moderate Blue Dog Democrat who isn't connected to Obama, and Republicans will jump to get rid of Gov. Goodhair.

Sadly, Perry has amassed so much money, he defeats primary challengers easily. I think most Texans want him to jump in the 2012 presidential race in the hopes that he steps down sooner! I am pretty sure the Tea Party and Libertarian types will look into his past and he won't get past New Hampshire.

(Disclaimer: As I have stated before, I'm a proud Republican Precinct Chair. I have never voted for Perry in any Primary. I never voted for Perry in a Democratic Primary before he jumped the fence.)

Guest
Guest

IOW, switch one incompetent Republican for another incompetent Republican who's trying to pretend to be something else? Major improvement.

Better idea: Let's let goodhair keep on keepin' on, and there won't NEED to be a secession vote - the rest of the states will gladly fight to expel you.

Bill Lumbergh
Bill Lumbergh

"Give us a moderate Blue Dog Democrat who isn't connected to Obama"

Only way a Democrat would've avoided an implied "Obama connection" in this past election would've been to run as an Independent (even then it would've been a trial in futility). The conservative election machine would've created an artificial boogie man/connection between ANY party-funded Democrat and Obama regardless of any real connection's existence.

Dianebirdwell
Dianebirdwell

Meant to put a space in my name. Ooops. Now it won't let me.

Trutex
Trutex

Gov. Perry and his party have pledged allegiance to Grover Norquist, not the people of Texas. The wealthy of Texas are not to be discomforted in any way, and are encouraged to ignore the fact that their state is crumbling. Schools, state parks, good air and water, and much more are to be sacrificed so King Richard can ride his Tea party horse off to Washington next year.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Again I ask, Why did the idiots in this state reelect this guy? Maybe its time we pressure our state reps/senators to begin the process of drafting legislation to place in term limits for the office of governor/Lt. Gov, not to mention make it easier to lead an effort to have said leaders recalled by vote if they stink it up. Thats two things many other states have over us in TX, and maybe for once, we should take their example.

Nunya
Nunya

The news outta Austin just keeps getting worse.

S Aten
S Aten

What next from Austin? Governor Big Hair wants to save his slush funds but kill Historic Preservation. I say, kill his slush funds and save Historic Preservation.

Joejoethedogfaceboy
Joejoethedogfaceboy

I bet Perry picked this dept for cutting just because federal law mandates that we have it. He won't be allowed to eliminate it, and then he can cry again about how the big, bad federal gub'ment is imposing on Texas' right to do what they "damn-well please". Makes for good political theatre...

RS1963
RS1963

I had the same thought the minute I read that it was required by the federal government. I am continually stunned that someone who has no "there" there, is able to just gloss over everything with a smile and a smirk and no one calls him on it.

"Liberal media" is causing Texas' budget crisis?!?!? Sheesh.

rubbercow
rubbercow

Everybody knows you do not F with the preservationists! Oh, wait.... Apparently the city and state have been doing that for quite some time.... Carry on, then.

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