Last week President Trump sent his FY19 budget proposal to Congress. The annual ritual, replete with press photos of shrink-wrapped budget tomes and countless charts, marks the start of the formal FY19 appropriations process. Much like last year, historic preservation priorities face dramatic cuts in the president’s proposal. If enacted, it would fundamentally challenge the ability of the federal government, states, and tribes to fully execute our nation’s historic preservation laws, affecting many important historic preservation programs.
Historic Preservation Fund
After a record funding level of $80.9 million in FY17, the president’s FY19 budget request proposes cutting Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) funding by 60 percent to just $32.6 million.
Of the proposed HPF funding, $26.9 million would be allocated for state historic preservation officers, a 45 percent cut and the lowest level of funding since FY1990. Tribal historic preservation officers would receive $5.7 million, a 43 percent cut and the lowest funding level since FY07. These drastic cuts would sharply curtail Section 106 reviews of federally funded and licensed projects, cultural resource surveys, and the processing of historic tax credit applications that help rehabilitate income-producing historic properties.
The president’s budget request proposes eliminating other HPF activities, including grants to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), competitive grants for African American Civil Rights sites and underrepresented communities, and the Save America’s Treasures revitalization grants. In FY17 HBCUs received $4 million, Civil Rights grants received $13 million, underrepresented communities’ grants received $500,000, and Save America’s Treasures received $5 million. Cuts to funding for HBCUs and Civil Rights grants would come at a time when the nation is actively engaging with those aspects of its broader history that it has so often overlooked in the past.
National Park Service Deferred Maintenance
Several accounts within the National Park Service (NPS) that help address the deferred maintenance backlog would be affected by the president’s budget proposal. Line-item construction would receive $149 million, an increase of about $17 million from FY17. Two other key accounts, however, would see substantial decreases. Repair and rehabilitation would receive $99.4 million, a decrease of $25 million, and cyclical maintenance would receive $112.8 million, a decrease of about $13.6 million. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been a leading advocate for increasing funds for both of these accounts.
The president’s budget also proposes a new Public Lands Infrastructure Fund, which would use a portion of receipts from new mineral and energy development on federal lands and waters to pay for capital and maintenance needs in national parks, wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Indian Education schools. This 10-year proposal would require legislative approval, and it is not clear that it would generate any significant revenues. The National Trust will continue our advocacy on behalf of the bipartisan, bicameral National Park Service Legacy Act that would require mandatory spending for park maintenance projects.
National Heritage Areas
The president’s budget would eliminate the roughly $20 million Heritage Partnership Program, including funding for the 49 congressionally designated National Heritage Areas—areas that have a strong history of public/private partnership.
Cultural Resources on Public Lands
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the largest collection of historic and cultural resources on our nation’s public lands. The president’s budget proposes cutting the BLM’s Cultural Resources Management program from about $16 million to $15.3 million in FY19. For national monuments and National Conservation Areas, the budget proposes $26.2 million, a cut of about $10.3 million. Funding cuts for these National Conservation Lands would reduce visitor services, decrease maintenance of trails and other amenities, and result in fewer educational and interpretive resources.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
The president’s budget would nearly eliminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), reducing the program by more than 95 percent from the $400 million level most recently appropriated by Congress. The LWCF has long served as the primary tool for acquiring key sites or otherwise expanding historic and cultural parks managed by the NPS, with more than $550 million invested in cultural and historic sites to date. The proposal requests just $8.1 million for federal land acquisition programs across the Department of the Interior, and it would eliminate discretionary funding for state assistance grants. The budget also proposes eliminating American Battlefield Protection Program acquisition grants, which are funded from LWCF—a cut of $10 million.
National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute for Museum and Library Services
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) are among a number of agencies targeted for elimination in the president’s proposal. While Congress boosted funding for the NEA and NEH to $149.8 million each and provided $231 million for IMLS in FY17, the president’s budget would provide funding only to begin the process of shutting down these agencies. All three agencies have long supported preservation activities at the local level.
Community Development Block Grants
The president’s budget recommends fully eliminating the $3 billion Community Development Block Grants program that supports a wide range of community and economic development activities including historic preservation.
This list is by no means comprehensive. If you’re curious about funding for a particular program, please reach out to Christine Luthy at (202) 588-6115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Outlook and Engagement
Ultimately, Congress will determine federal spending levels for FY19. Even as Congress scrambles to complete work on FY18 appropriations more than five months into the fiscal year, congressional committees have begun grilling administration officials at budget hearings and assembling priorities to write appropriations bills that will set the actual funding levels for federal programs in FY19. The recent Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 eased spending limits for FY18 and FY19, meaning Congress is more likely to maintain or perhaps even increase funding for many programs rather than enact the draconian cuts outlined in the president’s budget.
That said, in the current hyper-partisan atmosphere, sustained advocacy for preservation priorities remains as crucial as ever. The National Trust will provide testimony to the House and Senate appropriations committees as we do each year, and we encourage you to engage with Congress as well.
Contact your representatives, and encourage them to support funding for historic preservation programs by describing the impact in your hometown and state. The United States Capitol Switchboard, reachable at 202-224-3121, can connect you with your senators’ and representatives’ offices. To email or mail a letter, find your senators’ contact information here and your representatives’ contact information here. Consider attending this year’s Advocacy Week, which will take place March 12–14.
David J. Brown is the executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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