Texas history supporters came out in force today to tell the Senate Finance Committee why the Texas Historical Commission should be saved from a 77 percent budget cut. The agency, they said, drives state and federal dollars and thousands of tourists to Texas, and especially to rural areas that rely on the commission for promotion.
Mark Wolfe, the Historical Commission's executive director, initially told the committee that the agency could absorb the huge cut, although it would mean, among other things, losing its entire marketing department, which produces brochures at historic sites and websites for the commission and other historic sites and trails. Wolfe said both rural and urban communities would lose the expertise and money the commission provides to develop cultural resources.
“To us in rural Texas, the Texas Historical Commission is economic development,” said Adena Lewis, president of the Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce and a board member of one of the Heritage Trail regions.
Brian Shivers, chairman of the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, the nonprofit arm of the commission that raises private money for the agency, told lawmakers that heritage tourism is a $5.2 billion industry in Texas that supports thousands of jobs. “Economic studies show it generates $6 in tax revenue for every $1 spent promoting tourism,” Shivers said.
The Courthouse Preservation Program, Shivers said, has created 8,600 jobs and $40 million in state and local taxes since it started in 1999.
“The courthouse restoration program is a shot in the arm for every community in which it operates,” said Jim Ray, volunteer president of Preservation Texas, a group that advocates preserving the state’s historic resources.
Ray said there are about 50 courthouses ready to join the restoration program, and that those projects would create skilled labor jobs in those communities. “These are jobs that really make a difference,” he said.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the value of the heritage tourism industry in Texas. This story has been updated to reflect the accurate value, $5.2 billion.]