This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2011 - Leaders of Missouri's preservationist movement succeeded by Friday in blocking an amendment, added Thursday in the Missouri House, that stripped out the entertainer/athlete tax money that goes to the State Historic Preservation Office, and shifted the money to athletic programs at Lincoln and Harris-Stowe state universities.
Both the House and Senate dropped the amendment Friday
The money comes from the state's allocation from the entertainer/athlete tax, and currently provides -- directly or indirectly -- 85 percent of the funding for the state's preservation office.
The state historic preservation office, which has at least 18 employees, recently doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to various rural counties around the state to help maintain county courthouses.
The amendment knocking out the money was quietly added to a bill dealing with fine arts education. It instead stipulates that the money -- about $243,000 -- would go to "historically black colleges and universities to be allocated based on the student enrollment in each university and to be used solely for youth sport safety in each university's athletic facility, including physical safety and therapy."
The Historic Preservation Office uses that allocation as a match for federal funding of $460,000 a year.
The amendment was offered without explanation Thursday by state Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters. On Friday, he asked the chamber to approved a revised bill without the amendment.
State Rep. Chris Carter, D-St. Louis, was among the legislators behind the change, and indicated he thought the money could be a boost to the athletic departments. He said that the Department of Natural Resources, which handles the money, had earlier told him that the money was "never used."
Late Thursday, department officials talked to Carter outside the chamber. Soon after, DNR sources told the Beacon that the change had been tossed out by a conference committee.
In the meantime, preservation activists sent out an email blast Thursday afternoon alerting allies to besiege the legislature to drop the change.
According to the activists, eliminating the State Historic Preservation Office will prompt a takeover by the federal government of "administration of National Register and Federal Historic Tax Credit review, and all grant funding would be eliminated. No grants means no CLG assistance, no State Historic Preservation Conference, no state help for local preservation efforts..."
The pro-preservation crowd already feels under siege because of legislative efforts, particularly in the state Senate, to rein in the state's historic tax credit program, which currently provides about $140 million in tax breaks to those who restore historic structures. The state Senate passed a bill that would cut the annual allocation in half, as part of a broader tax-credit overhaul. Also in the Senate bill is $360 million in tax breaks aimed at encouraging development related to St. Louis' effort to persuade China to locate an international cargo hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport.