by Shaw Sprague
As with past legislative efforts after devastating weather events, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, along with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and Preservation Action, is working to build support for including historic preservation provisions into Hurricane Sandy relief legislation. A proposal to increase funding for the Historic Preservation Fund and temporarily increase the percentage of the Historic Tax Credit was delivered to Members of Congress whose states and districts were affected by the storm as well as to members of the House and Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees.
A relief package is taking shape in the Senate that has involved input from several committees, including the Appropriations and Finance Committees. During the week of December 10th, the Appropriations Committee released a $60.4 billion spending bill that includes $50 million for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) and $348 million for large-scale National Park Service (NPS) projects to repair resources and facilities, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island–one of the Trust’s National Treasures. We were also encouraged after Senators Schumer and Menendez—members of the Senate Finance Committee—announced the same week that they would be introducing legislation to reduce taxes on those affected by the hurricane and that their legislation will include temporary and targeted increases to the federal Historic Tax Credit. Since the storm hit in late October, various House and Senate committees have held public hearings with top federal and state officials testifying to the urgent need for federal relief.
On Monday, December 17, the Senate brought the Hurricane Sandy relief bill—drafted by the Appropriations Committee—to the floor. The bill includes the critically needed funds for the HPF and NPS facilities. While there appears to be growing support for federal aid, many in Congress question the size and scale of the supplemental request without a more detailed accounting of the damage. Amendments have been offered that propose to strip HPF funding from the bill. The National Trust, along with its partners, have been working to suppress support for these amendments. The first amendment (#3357) was introduced by Senator McCain and specifically eliminates HPF funding. The second amendment was introduced by Senator Coats and would replace the underlying bill with a substitute that proposes to reduce overall spending by about $40 billion. Senator Coats’ substitute amendment does not include funding for the HPF, but it does include $190 million for NPS construction activities, including funding for the “full scope of repairs to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.” At the time of this writing, both the McCain and Coats’ amendments have been offered, but not filed – which is to say, neither one is currently scheduled to receive a roll call vote.
With only a few legislative days left before the end of the 112th Congress, it is unclear whether the Senate – and ultimately the House – will be able pass legislation to address the needs of those affected by the hurricane this year or whether Congress will need to wait until the 113th Congress convenes in January.
As we enter 2013 and the start of the 113th Congress, keep an eye on this blog for updates about Congressional efforts to pass Hurricane Sandy relief legislation.
Shaw Sprague is associate director for Government Relations and Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.