In Kittitas County in central Washington State, the County Commissioners were looking to generate revenue for certain infrastructure projects. No one in the outdoorsy community was likely to oppose shoring up recreation areas and access roads, but a red flag went up when it became clear the funding would come from doubling the existing real estate excise tax – something the commissioners were authorized to enact with an internal vote, thanks to a legal loophole that allows them to by-pass the will of county residents. With an Issues Mobilization grant from the REALTOR® Party, the state and local REALTOR® associations launched a campaign that spread the word throughout the rural community. A Call For Action gave voice to the residents, whose message to the Commissioners was a resounding “NO!”
Nathan Gorton, Government Affairs Director of the Washington Association of REALTORS®, explains that the effort was all about housing affordability. “The impact of the proposed tax on homeowners would have been so detrimental to the county’s homeowners, not to mention a blow to aspiring homeowners whose dreams would become even harder to achieve. Our polling showed that the tax hike was deeply unpopular among Kittitas County voters – and they weren’t even being given the opportunity to vote on the matter. It was a case where the lawmakers needed to hear public opinion, and, fortunately, we have the tools to make that happen.” Gorton turned to the REALTOR® Party for help with an Issues Mobilization campaign; the state association provided significant funding, as well. “For any smaller associations out there, this is worth noting,” says Gorton: “The Kittitas County Association has 115 REALTOR® members, but while the REALTOR® Party team was helping us put together the campaign, it was clear that the size of the association simply wasn’t an issue. All that mattered was that the members were passionate about the cause. NAR is committed to serving all its local associations, regardless of size, and for a national trade association, that’s really cool.”
The campaign reached residents through radio, digital, and newspaper ads, a tear-off mailer, and a dedicated website. The consumer-facing Call For Action asked “Can you afford a 100% tax hike?” and resulted in a whopping 42% action rate. The County Commission was forced to conclude that strong-arming the increase would not be well-received, and the excise tax increase was pulled from the agenda.
“Our local members and their leadership are very happy,” reports Gorton. “And, because REALTORS® are problem-solvers by nature, we have reached out to the County Commissioners to explore other funding vehicles. We stand behind these communities and their needs, but our priority is protecting the property owners and aspiring homeowners from onerous tax burdens. We’re all very grateful to the National Association for making efforts like this possible.”
To learn more about how the Washington REALTORS® are working with the REALTOR® Party to oppose threats to housing affordability in the state, contact Government Affairs Director Nathan Gorton at Nathan.Gorton@warealtor.org or 360.561.7700.