Back in 1908, the Kansas state legislature passed a law that required a public vote to approve any property tax increase that was greater than two-percent over the rate of inflation. Nearly a century later, in 1999, that law was repealed. Since then, as property taxes in Kansas steadily mounted at a much higher rate, champions of property rights had been waiting for a political environment favorable to reinstating the public-vote requirement; in 2015, the Kansas Association of REALTORS® (KAR) led a successful campaign to do just that. The new law, however, would not go into effect for over two years, leaving plenty of time for local governments to raise taxes in anticipation of the coming cap. So, early in 2016, KAR launched an energetic public awareness campaign to convince the legislature that the window needed to be closed much sooner. Using an Issues Mobilization grant from the REALTOR® Party, it got its point across loud and clear.
Kansas has among the highest property taxes in the nation, notes Patrick Vogelsberg, KAR’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs. This affects not only homeowners, it deters the state’s ability to attract businesses to set up shop and increase the tax base. But while polling conducted by NAR’s Campaign Services team revealed that voters supported the property tax vote requirement, and were unhappy with the rate at which property taxes had been rising without it, fewer than a quarter of them were aware of the recent legislation that would go into effect in 2018. As local governments and local media were engaged in a determined effort to have the new law completely repealed, a coalition led by KAR countered their messaging by appealing directly to voters, encouraging them to contact their legislators in support of moving up the date that the property tax vote requirement would go into effect. The campaign was called ‘Let Kansas Vote.’
Together with support from the KAR Issues Mobilization Fund and several coalition partners, a major grant from the REALTOR® Party powered the highly strategic effort involving contract lobbying support; a dedicated website providing letter-to-the-editor links and a Contact Your Legislator feature; digital and radio advertising; and the call-to-action mobilization of REALTORS® from KAR’s 8,200-strong membership base. During the 2016 KAR Capitol Conference Meeting, REALTORS® members face-to-face with their legislators to share their ‘finger-on-the-pulse-of-the community’ expertise.
Going into the 2016 Legislative Session, notes Vogelsberg, the intense opposition of many local governments to the property tax vote requirement, compounded by numerous newspaper editorials attacking it, was causing a number of lawmakers to second-guess their support of the issue. “Armed with actual polling data, and with our folks on the ground speaking out in force, we were able to cut through the misinformation and demonstrate the will of the voters.”
Vogelsberg credits his predecessor, Luke Bell, who is now executive vice president of the Illinois REALTORS®, with masterminding the campaign. “Luke understood the kind of advocacy effort that would be needed to overcome the opposition from local governments and the media,” he says. Thanks in large part to the public pressure and direct lobbying applied by the campaign, the KAR coalition was able to broker a compromise that moved the implementation date of the law up by a full year, and closed a number of unnecessary loopholes.
The final agreement on the property tax vote requirement passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the Kansas legislature at the end of April, and was signed into law by the Governor on May 9.
“This would not have been possible without the support of the REALTOR® Party,” states Vogelsberg, who adds, “These resources really set us apart, with a level of political sophistication that is beyond anything we see from other advocacy groups up at the Statehouse. With the ability to deploy this kind of power, the question is not ‘Why would you turn to the REALTOR® Party for help?’—it’s ‘Why wouldn’t you?!’”
To learn more about how Kansas REALTORS® strengthened their state’s property rights by using an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, contact Patrick Vogelsberg, Vice President of Governmental Affairs at the Kansas Association of REALTORS®, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-267-3610.