The issue: connecting people to their jobs. In Hamilton County, Ohio, which covers much of the city of Cincinnati, the outdated and under-funded system of public bus routes was making a 90-minute one-way commute the norm for residents trying to get to and from work – those with jobs that were even accessible by bus, that is. The good news: Greater Cincinnati’s bus system had developed a comprehensive ‘Reinventing METRO’ plan to dramatically increase its range of service. The challenge: the plan was dependent on voters approving a .8% sales tax increase for funding. The success: with major support from the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® (CABR,) and additional grants from both the state association and the REALTOR® Party, a campaign by a broad-based coalition promoting the tax levy prevailed.
Mark Quarry, CABR’s Government Affairs Director, explains that the Reinventing METRO program promises improved service frequency, longer service hours, time-saving cross-county routes and rapid transit corridors to commuters of Hamilton County; it would also give the system newfound financial sustainability. Pointing to the National Association of REALTORS®’ Moving Forward Together principles, emphasizing investment in public transit as essential to building and maintaining strong communities, he notes, “Getting people to their jobs is a priority for our region, as a basic quality-of-life issue. A strong public transit system means time savings, increased productivity, and significant reductions in costs, traffic, and air pollution. Of course, it’s also beneficial for property values.”
Historically, the bus system had been funded by the Cincinnati earnings tax, now deemed an unsustainable source in the long run. This left the local taxation authority board with two choices when it came to funding Reinventing METRO: increasing either the Hamilton County sales tax or its property tax. Relying on the sales tax presented a triple benefit: not only would it spread the burden of transportation funding beyond the county itself, it would actually reduce the earnings tax of those working in Cincinnati; in addition, 25% of the projected $130 million annual tax revenue would be earmarked for future public infrastructure improvements. And, it would leave property tax rates where they were.
CABR belongs to the strong coalition supporting the development and funding of Reinventing METRO, led by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and supported by many elected officials. To get its message to the voters, the coalition launched a campaign of targeted mailers, television, radio, and digital ads. Because the pandemic delayed the election by six weeks, the campaign was extended to meet the extraordinary circumstances. The REALTOR® contribution, which included $15,000 from CABR’s own political action committee, was one of its most significant sources of funding. “Putting our money where our mouth is commanded a great deal of respect and gratitude,” notes Quarry, adding, “It’s been the perfect stepping stone for our future advocacy, and assures our involvement in dialogues taking place about the region’s next big infrastructure projects. We’ve earned our soap box to stand on.”
The sales tax increase passed with a margin of just 980 votes — slim, but definitive, says Quarry. Following the vote, community leaders were quick to credit the REALTORS® for their critical role in strengthening transportation service for the region’s workforce. Says Pete Metz, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Manager of Transportation Initiatives, “We absolutely couldn’t have gotten this campaign across the finish line without the strong support of the REALTORS®. They went all in on this campaign, and their support – both financial and member outreach – helped ensure Hamilton County has the transportation system it has long needed.”
Quarry reiterates that beyond helping to solve the transportation problem, the REALTORS®’ involvement in this campaign has had the added bonus of elevating their standing within the community. He commends the local, state, and national tiers of the REALTOR® organization for all the help that made it possible: “The REALTOR® Party process works so well, in all its mechanisms, and we’re thankful to every person involved in the process, all along the line.”
To learn more about how the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® is working to connect people to their jobs by strengthening transportation infrastructure, contact Mark J. Quarry, Director of Government Affairs, at 513-842-3014.