Saving the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, Saving Mississippi Communities

As we’ve noted in a couple of recent News Roundups, the popular historic preservation tax credit has been put into limbo in recent congressional tax reform proposals. As of this weekend, the House of Representatives bill, passed in early November, elminates the tax credit entirely, while the Senate version, passed on Friday, retains the credit while making some changes to how it is claimed.

An article by Elaine S. Povich in Governing magainze lists the reasons “Why the GOP plan to cut the historic preservation tax won’t be easy,” noting that

Efforts to roll back similar tax credits in a handful of states have run into opposition from preservation advocates, small town mayors, commercial developers and builders, all of whom depend on the credits to fund the reconstruction and revitalization of historic downtowns and rural buildings — and argue the credits more than cover their costs by generating jobs and tax revenue.

. . . .

The federal version of the tax credit was made permanent under the Reagan administration and has been used in every state and nearly every county over the past few years.

According to a study by Rutgers University and the National Park Service, which helps administer the program, the federal credit created 108,528 new jobs in fiscal 2016 and is responsible for $120.8 billion in investment in urban and rural communities over the life of the program.

Advocates argue that the federal credit returns $1.20 for every dollar spent in the form of property taxes, income taxes on construction workers and taxes from ancillary businesses that spring up around the rehabbed property.

. . . .

But critics say they are a giveaway to developers and that the buildings deemed “historic” are just plain old, and not worth preserving. Critics also argue that the money spent for the credit could be better used for other things.

Read more . . .

I threw in that last paragraph because the comments of the “critics” sound so juvenile as to not be worth debating. But just to cast pearls before swine, buildings cannot be eligible for the tax credit unless they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is an arduous process that requires sound arguments about why the buildings (or historic districts) are historically significant. As for the second argument, the same could be said, and has been said, about everything we citizens spend our money on through our local, state, and federal governments. *sigh* Excuse me while I go put my leftovers in a ziploc bag to send to the starving in the Third World.

To say that the historic preservation tax credit has helped revitalize and preserve small-town Mississippi would be an understatement. The National Trust has put together some very helpful information about the federal tax credit in each state from 2002 to 2016, including the 216 completed in Mississippi:

State of Mississippi
Economic Impacts of HTC Investment, FY 2002-2016

Total Number of Projects Rehabilitated: 216
Total Development Costs: $353,758,472
Total Qualified Rehabilitation Expenditures: $293,619,532
Federal HTC Amount: $58,723,906
Total Number of Jobs Created: 6,989
Construction: 3,430
Permanent: 3,559

Total Income (Net of Taxes) Generated: $342,005,400

Household: $186,032,300
Business: $155,973,100

Total Taxes Generated: $74,792,400

Local: $10,165,600
State: $10,374,100
Federal: $54,252,700

And they helpfully provided a map that shows that even small towns like Stonewall, Baldwyn, Leland, and Crystal Springs have seen revitalized historic buildings because of the preservation tax credit. Not to mention Natchez and Columbus, which have both spent the last few decades revitalizing their downtowns and their nationally historic architectural gems using the tax credit.

If you want to see the full list of Mississippi’s tax credit projects since 2002, go to the National Trust website at http://forum.savingplaces.org.

I’m not so naive as to think that preservation is non-political, but people of both ends of the political spectrum can and have united for decades to preserve the historic landmarks and districts in their communities. In fact, the historic preservation tax credit was considered a conservative approach to encouraging private investment in historic buildings, and it has proven itself over time.  As President Ronald Reagan, a pretty strong conservative if I recall, noted in 1984, the historic preservation tax credit “sends your tax dollars back into your communities.”

Senators Cochran and Wicker have gone on record previously as advocates for the preservation tax credit, but even so, take a moment today to call or write your Representative and Senator to tell them how important the tax credit has been in your Mississippi community. Here is just a small sampling of the historic buildings the tax credit has preserved over the last 15 years.



Categories: Historic Preservation

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