Milam County Historical Commission
Milam County, Texas
Milam County Historical Commission - Milam County, TX
Statue of Ben Milam at Milam County, TX Courthouse
Old Junior High School Building, Rockdale, TX
Milam County Courthouse - Cameron, TX
Preserve America
                                  LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP
            2011 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature and First Called Session  

Funding for the Texas Historical Commission

With passage of Senate Bill 1 in the special session, the Texas Legislature assured funding in 2012 and 2013 for the Texas Historical Commission (THC).  When combined with appropriations in House Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act from the regular session, provisions in SB 1 assure the availability of sufficient appropriated monies to carry forward most programs and activities of the THC, although with more limited resources and reduced staff.

The importance of SB 1 of the First Called Session, the so-called fiscal matter bill, to historic preservation is that it provides the statutory authorization for use of monies from the Texas Preservation Trust Fund to support THC operations and programs.

A Crippling Start

The Texas Historical Commission began the Regular Session of the Texas Legislature with budget bills filed in January that would have dealt a devastating 77 percent cut to the agency, eliminating its entire communications staff, terminating its information technology support services, and freezing or eliminating most agency programs. In general, only the compliance, certification, and investment tax credit review functions would have remained viable along with funding for limited operation of the agency’s 20 historical sites. Some of the draconian results of implementation of the budget bills (HB 1 and SB 1) as filed would have been:

* Main Street Program - reduced to provide support to existing designated communities only;
* Heritage Tourism (Texas Heritage Trails Program) –  eliminated;
* Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program –  eliminated;
* County Historical Commission Support – terminated;
* Texas Historical Marker Program – reduced drastically;
* Museum Services – terminated;
* Texas Preservation Trust Fund Grants – eliminated;
* Historic Texas Cemetery Program – terminated;
* Visionaries in Preservation – terminated;
* Historic Roads and Highways – no funding;
* Military History – all services terminated;
* Field archeology services – terminated.

Save Texas History

In the course of the 2011 Regular Session and the First Called Session, legislative leaders, individual legislators, historic preservation groups, architects, county and city elected officials, tourism representatives, individual preservationists, and celebrities, such as Ray Benson of “Asleep  at the Wheel,” came together to support the Texas Historical Commission and “Save Texas History.”

The coalition advanced an agenda for saving the THC and its programs which was backed with credible and clear information from the agency about the impact of proposed cuts, widespread editorial support from the media, and hundreds of testimonials from local communities.

The agenda presented to legislators, legislative committees, and the state elected leaders called for staffing levels and funding that would maintain the THC’s capacity to manage effectively; restore proposed cuts to the many heritage and historic preservation programs known to be economic generators for local communities; and grant flexibility for THC Commissioners and mangers to move funds among agency programs and activities.

The Results

During the course of budget decisions, the Legislature added some $28.6 million in all funds back to the two-year appropriations for THC.  This includes over $5.0 million in general revenue for various programs and for agency operations; $20 million in bond funding for historic county courthouse restorations, and over $3.5 million in federal Transportation Enhancement Funds for the heritage trails program.  An additional $1.5 million in general revenue is appropriated to the Texas Public Finance Authority to pay the debt service on bonds for historic county courthouse restoration. Thus, total restoration of funds for historic preservation programs and activities stands at $30 million for the biennium.

Impact of Restored Appropriations on the Texas Historic Commission

Under the funding plans and appropriations of the General Appropriations Act and S.B. 1 from  the special session almost all Texas Historical Commission programs and activities will be continued.  Approved appropriations for the THC will provide the agency capacity to manage and support its operations, to continue almost all programs and services at reduced levels, and to transfer funds among major functions.

Unfortunately, like virtually all Texas state agencies, the Texas Historical Commission will still experience funding reductions and the resulting elimination of staff positions in 2012 and 2013. The agency has already begun to notify staff of positions that were eliminated and to prepare for a much leaner operation with the start of State Fiscal Year 2012 on September 1, 2011.

Status of Individual Programs and Activities of the Texas Historical Commission

Under the improved budget plan and appropriations, the Texas Main Street program will stay in operation and be able to designate additional main street cities. Historic County Courthouse Restoration grants should be available at the same level as during the last biennium.  The Texas Heritage Trails program should continue at its current level for each of the next two fiscal years. All 20 historic sites administered by THC will remain open, but with some staff reductions. Over $14 million is provided for operation and maintenance of the sites. A number of programs and activities now administered by THC staff will continue, with slightly reduced support, including County Historical Commission services, the Texas Historical Marker Program, Museum Services, Historic Texas Cemeteries, Military History services, and field archeological services.

A major change includes elimination of restoration grants for historic properties from the Texas Preservation Trust Fund, established by the Legislature in 1989. Importantly, though, $4.31 million in TPTF monies are appropriated back to THC for critical support of programs otherwise lost to the state revenue shortfall. Other grant programs suspended by the budget cuts include the Partnership grants of the Texas Heritage Trails Program and grants to small history museums.

Funding for Historic Sites at Parks and Wildlife Department

Initial analysis of appropriations to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for state parks and historic sites suggest that the department may be able to keep the historic sites entrusted to its care open, but with reduced operations. An exception may be the Sebastropol House State Historic Site which could be transferred to the City of Sequin.  Originally, six other sites and parks were recommended for transfer to local governments. Some of the funding will need to come from a rider (No. 27) which would make available some additional sporting goods tax monies if revenue from this source for 2012-2013 exceeds the State Comptroller’s revenue estimate.

Also at Parks and Wildlife, the local parks grant program was virtually eliminated taking a 96.3 percent cut. The department had requested $41.2 million for local park grants; the Legislature appropriated $1.5 million.(Thanks to the Texas Parks Coalition for this information.)

Bills of Interest that Passed During the Legislative Session

State Historic Sites Bill
SB 1518 by Senator Kevin Eltife puts into the Government Code a series of provisions to allow the Texas Historical Commission to effectively operate the State Historic Sites transferred to its care in 2009. Many of the provisions come from Parks and Wildlife Code sections that applied to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department when it operated the transferred sites. The bill addresses such matters as accessto criminal record history, historic site fees, disclosure of personal information, acquisition of historic sites, sale and transfer of land, and contracts related to operation of historic sites.

The Alamo Bill
After debating a number of alternative approaches to oversight of the operations of the Alamo, the Legislature passed HB 3726 by  Representative Ryan Guillen which was sponsored in the Senate by  Senator Leticia Van De Putte. The bill places the Alamo complex under the jurisdiction of the General Land Office. The land office is made responsible for the preservation, maintenance, and restoration of the Alamo complex and its contents as well as for the protection of the historical and architectural integrity of  the exterior, interior, and grounds of the complex.

The General Land Office is directed to enter into an agreement with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas for the management, operation, and financial support of the Alamo complex.  HB 3726 spells out criteria for the agreement and details oversight responsibilities of the land office.

Historic Highways
The Legislature passed several bills designating additional historic highways.  HB 1866 by Naomi Gonzalez designates State Highway 20 in El Paso as a historic highway. HB 1499 by Lyle Larson designates the Scenic Loop Road—Boerne Stage Road—Toutant Beauregard Road Historic Corridor. This area was one of  Preservation Texas’s 2009 Texas’ Most Endangered Places. HB 3421 by Doug Miller designates the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail as a historic highway.

Bills of Interest That Did Not Pass

Abolition of Texas Historical Commission
HB 2879 by Phil King of Weatherford
would have abolished the Texas Historical Commission and transferred its duties to the Parks and Wildlife Commission, the General Land Office, and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. This bill was referred to the House State Affairs Committee where it died.

Archeological Cemeteries
HB 2544 by Donna Howard of Austin would have defined archeological cemeteries and provided for their protection.
The bill was referred to the House Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee where it received a hearing, but was left pending in the committee.

Graffiti on Historic Buildings
House Bill 690 by Trey Martinez Fisher of San Antonio, and others, would have added historical structures to the list of structures for which Penal Code charges and penalties could be applied in graffiti cases.
  This bill passed the House, but died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. 

Preservation Texas is the advocate for preserving the historic resources of Texas.

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