Going into its 2015 session, the Alabama legislature was facing a serious budget shortfall. All possible revenue sources were on the table, including valuable real estate tax provisions. Using a significant Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the Alabama Association of REALTORS® (AAR) was able to keep threats to organized real estate and property rights at bay, but long-term solutions were still nowhere in sight. When the issue resurfaced at the outset of the 2016 session, the power of the REALTOR® Party was there again for Alabama, and this time it prevailed in no uncertain terms.
Jeremy Walker, now CEO of AAR, was the association’s General Counsel and Government Affairs Director throughout the contentious sessions. “In many states, budget shortfalls are at the top of everyone’s list of concerns; Alabama is no exception,” he says. “The good news is that the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has been an excellent help to all those states fighting budget battles such as ours. The road would have been very difficult without them.”
In the 2016 session, AAR was focused on two possible revenue options threatening property owners and the real estate industry, both of which had significant support in some legislative circles: a “Flat Tax” proposal which called for the elimination of the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID), which is the fifth most-utilized deduction in Alabama’s tax code; and substantial increases to the Mortgage & Deed Recording Fees, which are passed on to the consumer with the purchase or sale of any property. Using a second Issues Mobilization Grant in as many years, AAR effectively neutralized both these threats with a forceful campaign demonstrating consumer opposition. They called it “Alabama Homes Matter.” Says Walker, “With the assistance of NAR’s Campaign Services team, our leadership was able to develop an aggressive visible strategy showing that we’d fight hard to oppose both these troubling measures. It made such an impression that neither threat came to fruition during the 2016 legislative session.”
The campaign targeted likely-turnout voters in ten House districts and five Senate districts across the state. Outreach urging these constituents to contact their legislators included a dedicated website with direct links to legislators; online ads; mailers with tear-off postcards to legislators; a round of patch-through phone calls; and two full-page ads in the Montgomery Advertiser.
“The response of voters was really impressive,” says Walker, who credits the quality of the message crafted by NAR’s Campaign Services Team. Fifty-percent of those contacted by telephone requested to be patched-through to their legislators’ offices, to the point where those offices contacted AAR and asked them to make it stop, the message having been heard, loud and clear. Each House and Senate member targeted received more than 100 mail responses from the tear off mailers, and up to 100 direct emails and letters. The electronic digital ads had six million impressions, half of them on smart phones. Thanks to the terrific force of Alabama Homes Matter Campaign, the Flat Tax proposal threatening the MID was never filed, and the bill promoting higher Recording Fees, though filed, never made it through to committee.
The second phase of the campaign was AAR’s Membership Day at the Capitol, on which some 300 members traveled to Montgomery to deliver their thanks to legislators who had affirmed their commitment to REALTOR® issues. “We’re very fortunate to have such an engaged and passionate membership, with a strong tradition of advocacy going back many years,” says Walker. “The fact is, this number isn’t unusual: we typically have 300-400 members show up to engage with their representatives and senators. They want to participate in the process and make their voices heard, and it does make an impact.” AAR was also gratified to see members using elements of the Alabama Homes Matter Campaign in ways it hadn’t anticipated, he adds. “Members passed along information from the campaign to their clients, saying, ‘we’re fighting for your rights as property owners!’ Our members do much more than help their clients buy and sell property. They also help build communities and advocate for consumers at the local, state and national level.” Again, he credits NAR for helping stimulate this level of grassroots activity with consumers on behalf of property rights and homeownership.
To learn more about how the Alabama Association of REALTORS® worked with the REALTOR® Party for the second year in a row to defeat state tax reform efforts targeting real estate tax provisions, contact CEO Jeremy Walker at 334-386-5348