Good Fiscal Sense
By Stephanie K. Meeks | From Preservation | May/June 2011
In 1966, Sydney Hyman wrote, "A nation can be a victim of amnesia. It can lose the memories of what it was, and thereby lose the sense of what it is or what it wants to be." His moving words appeared in With Heritage So Rich, the landmark report that launched America's modern preservation movement. But they could just as easily have been written today.
Our cultural heritage—the historic buildings and landmarks that help us understand who we are as a nation—is at risk, jeopardized by limited resources and the erroneous belief that investments in preservation do not produce economic benefits.
Nothing could be further from the truth. At both the state and federal levels, preservation programs are among the most proven, cost-effective tools for creating jobs, boosting local economies, and revitalizing communities. State Main Street programs, for instance, generate an average of $27 for every dollar spent. And they produce results while helping to preserve the unique character and vitality of America's cities and towns.
Federal historic tax credits have created 1.8 million jobs, generated $21 billion in federal taxes, and attracted $85 billion in private investment—on an investment of $16.6 billion. That's a greater impact in terms of jobs, income, and tax receipts than that produced by similar investments in highway construction, agriculture, or telecommunications, according to a 2010 study by Rutgers University.
Yet as I write this column, tax credit programs face an uncertain future in many states. Main Street programs are threatened in Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Arizona. State-owned parks and historic sites have suffered such serious cuts that we added them to last year's list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Public officials are wrestling with tough choices. President Obama's 2012 budget proposal did include essential increases for critical components of the Historic Preservation Fund, including long-overdue increases for state and tribal historic preservation offices. The budget also recommended a more than 50 percent increase for cultural resource management on Bureau of Land Management public lands—which could produce dramatic benefits, if enacted. But other important preservation programs, including Save America's Treasures and Preserve America, have been eliminated, and core federal preservation funding may be next on the chopping block.
That would represent a huge step in the wrong direction, which is why the National Trust is advocating with the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill for preservation funding, and using the media to get the word out. Elected officials at both the federal and state levels need to know that a powerful constituency stands behind them when they advocate for preservation—and speaks out for change when they do not.
Advocacy tools are available on our website, PreservationNation.org. Join us in making the voice of preservation heard.
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