Without a local internet use tax in place on sales from out-of-state vendors, the City of Columbia, Missouri and its surrounding county had been missing out on tens of millions of revenue dollars from the online shopping trend. To help the municipality capture this income for essential services, the Columbia Board of REALTORS® used an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party to convince voters to adopt the tax.
$30 million in the past five years: that’s the estimate of the revenue that the City of Columbia, Missouri has missed out on because it hasn’t had a local internet use tax in place. With the passage of new legislation supported by the Columbia Board of REALTORS®, the municipal region will now benefit from commerce with out-of-state vendors, which will be taxed comparably to purchases made in local establishments. The resulting revenue will fund essential services throughout the city and surrounding Boone County.
Columbia Board of REALTORS® CEO Brian Toohey explains that fighting for the use tax was very much a REALTOR® issue: “Our communities were clearly suffering from the drop in sales tax revenue as the online shopping trend grew, so we had to help the city modernize its revenue sources. We also needed to defend the usual tax target, which is new housing and development; with inventory in such short supply, the last thing we want is to add to the cost of homebuying.” Attempts to impose an internet use tax had been defeated before, he says, but the 2020 passage of the Missouri General Assembly’s ‘Wayfair bill,’ which was strongly supported by Missouri REALTORS®, allows for these use taxes and paved the way for local jurisdictions to follow suit.
As soon as the City of Columbia and Boone County had drafted Proposition 1, a joint piece of legislation imposing a local internet use tax on sales made from out-of-state vendors, the local REALTORS®’ Government Affairs Committee rallied behind it. With help from staff of the state association, they secured an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party to help launch a public campaign to pass the bill in the April election. In an initial meeting with the City Manager, Toohey and his Government Affairs team asked how the increased funding would be used. “The response, that it would enable the City to build new fire stations and hire and maintain as many as seven new firefighters and eight new police officers, and annually repave up to fifteen lane miles of road and repair thirty city blocks of sidewalk, gave us the strongest possible content for our campaign to convince the voters who live and work in these communities,” he notes.
The effort involved the creation of a new website landing page and targeted digital banner ads that ran for five weeks leading up to the vote. “The REALTOR® Party’s system is so refined – it really works!” says Toohey, who reports anecdotally that he and his colleagues only received ads intended for their respective demographics. The grant also funded the production of ‘palm cards’ for the Columbia Professional Firefighters Association to use in its door-to-door campaigning. “No one else was canvassing to this degree, and it gained us lots of valuable political capital,” reports Toohey. Election turn-out was good, and Proposition 1 passed with a strong margin in both the City of Columbia and Boone County.
“We’re so grateful for all the support from the REALTOR® Party and from our state association,” says Toohey. “The grant really made us stand out and showed the city and county leaders how committed REALTORS® are to their communities. Not even the Chamber of Commerce could put this kind of power behind the effort to pass this tax, and it’s going to improve the quality of life for all city and county residents: a real REALTOR® value.”
To learn more about how the Columbia Board of REALTORS® has helped its municipality and county to modernize critical tax revenue streams, contact Chief Executive Officer Brian Toohey at email@example.com or 573.446.2408.