By Elizabeth Hughes, Director and State Historic Preservation Officer, Maryland Historical Trust and President, National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO)
As we celebrate Preservation Month and the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, federal funding for historic preservation hangs in the balance. Since 1976, the Historic Preservation Fund has supported state and local efforts to identify, protect, and enhance historic places that matter to Marylanders. In addition to special competitive grants, the Maryland Historical Trust receives approximately 20 percent of its annual budget from this fund. Yet the fund’s authorization, supported by a small percentage of offshore drilling revenue, was allowed to expire on September 30, 2015.
Thanks to the leadership of Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland has positioned itself as a strong champion for preservation. On April 11, Governor Hogan wrote to Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, which is responsible for the fund’s reauthorization. The governor expressed his support, noting “Reauthorization and extension of the Fund until 2024 will support states and tribes as they carry out the work of the national historic preservation program and would provide certainty for states and communities with historic preservation projects.” Local governments, developers, and private citizens depend on this support to document historic places for the National Register of Historic Places, to take advantage of federal tax credits, and to support local planning, among other critical preservation efforts.
Congress is moving slowly to ensure that there is a future for the Historic Preservation Fund. The National Historic Preservation Amendments Act of 2015 (H.R. 2817), a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the Fund for 10 years, has been introduced by Historic Preservation Caucus Co-Chairs Mike Turner (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D – OR). A subcommittee hearing on the bill was held in February and co-sponsors on the bill are actively being sought.
Despite this forward movement, Governor Hogan’s support for reauthorization could not have come at a more critical juncture. Only last month, the House Rules Subcommittee proposed exploring limits on appropriations for programs and agencies whose legal authorizations have expired. The loss of federal preservation funding would be catastrophic to state, tribal, and local programs all across the country. We hope that with the support of the governor and others, we will still be able to celebrate 50 years of preservation success in 2016, and not mourn a step backward for our nation’s irreplaceable cultural heritage.