Advocate editorial board opinion: Legislature should not eliminate heritage programs

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Feb. 18, 2011 at 8 p.m.
Updated Feb. 18, 2011 at 8:19 p.m.

Dubbed the most important document in Texas history, the Texas Declaration of Independence - written overnight and signed March 2, 1836 while the Alamo was under siege - is on display at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building in Austin.

The document has deteriorated over time because knowledge of how to archive was absent for most of the time since it was created. But nowadays, archivists have advanced in preservation technology, and documents like our state's declaration have a better chance to survive in the future.

We hope Gov. Rick Perry was kidding when he announced a week ago that the Texas Historical Commission should be done away with to help shore up the state deficit. Our legislators say that deficit is about $15 billion, but others put the number at $27.1 billion, an amount thought to be more realistic.

We agree that cuts need to be made to balance the budget, but we think decisions should be made to cut things that will not hurt Texas. Legislators should not cut things that are part of the solution, such as education and those who preserve our history and culture. That would be a great mistake. Our history is invaluable. Our state has rich history with diverse cultures - influences from the Spanish colonies, the French colony (LaSalle) Mexican colonies and more.

So what else can you do? Well, Perry has begun thinking about using some of the Rainy Day Fund, a fund set aside to help in financial need. We think there is indeed a financial need. How much does that fund have in it? It's a safety net of about $9.4 billion.

We also think the tax on fuel, which has not been raised since the 1980s, should be increased by a cent or two. It's a fair tax and would generate a significant amount that would slice away at the deficit.

Letting non-violent prisoners out of confinement would save significant amounts of money.

And gambling is being considered to generate more revenue in the state to offset the deficit. Some proponents of gambling say it would generate $1 billion in revenue a year.

All of these ideas could balance the budget..

Let's remember that history is also an economic boon.

"Few people realize that 'tourism' generates in excess of $51 billion dollars each year. Heritage tourism is the largest segment of this 'pie' and the fastest growing segment. THC is totally focused on heritage tourism. Texas state historical markers are visible reminders of our history, and the very individuals who helped chart our course. The marker program will vanish if THC is forced to close its doors," said Texas Historical Commission Executive Director Mark Wolfe in a letter to Gary Dunnam, Victoria County heritage director.

Dunnam noted that three historical markers were installed this month at Foster Field, Salem Community and the Murphy Ranch.

"A fourth, for F. W. Gross School, will be dedicated at the next reunion of graduates. We have just received word that a fifth marker, "El Camino Real in Victoria County" has been shipped from the foundry. Markers for the "J. Meredith Tatton House" and "The Old Pump House - Victoria's Original Water Works" have been approved, and will be cast this year. We are documenting our county's history - putting it out there for the public. There is no substitute for this program. We must insure that THC survives this bloodletting," Dunnam said.

Dunnam quoted John Steinbeck, who said it best: "How will we know it's 'us' without our history?"

We could go into courthouse restoration and many, many other valuable programs the commission helps with, but the list is too long.

The bottom line is that the commission and the Texas Commission On the Arts account for $17.4 million, only .06 percent of that $27 billion deficit, hardly worth bothering these commissions.

Gov. Perry, quit picking at the lifeblood of Texas - our culture and heritage in these two commissions. Make cuts and take actions where they will really count.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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