Wednesday, April 13, 2011
As federal, state, and local governments face expanding budget crises, will historic preservation programs be one of the first items on the chopping block? President Obama's February budget proposal would have eliminated Save America's Treasures and Preserve America, which support historic preservation. Also in February, Governor Rick Perry of Texas proposed to eliminate funding for the Texas Historical Commission. The most important battles may be fought at the local level, however, where taxpayers are beginning to question the merits of tax breaks for property owners who preserve and maintain historic landmarks. On April 12, three homeowners in Austin sued the city and its city council, arguing that the tax breaks that apply to more than 500 landmarks in the city violate state law. In Detroit, historic buildings have crumbled as businesses have vacated structures, leaving them vulnerable to vandalism.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York noted that "nationwide legislative efforts" toward historic preservation reflect a "widely shared belief that structures with special historic, cultural, or architectural significance enhance the quality of life for all." But as governments struggle to provide funding for other essentials, pieces of our past may be lost.