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Issues Mobilization

Boise Regional REALTORS® Boost School District with Issues Mobilization Grant

In the fastest growing region of the fastest growing state in the nation, four out of five schools are well over student capacity, and all are looking at significant enrollment increases in the immediate future. The school district of West Ada County, Idaho, which receives funding for expansion and infrastructure improvement only through bond measures approved by a supermajority of voters, proposed such a bond in March: $95 million to build new schools, expand and improve others, and buy land for future school sites before property values rise much further. The Boise Regional REALTORS® (BRR) launched an energetic campaign to convince voters to approve the proposal.  It passed narrowly with about 1% margin of the vote.

According to BRR President Gary Salisbury, the need was urgent for the community, and therefore, the industry: “Keeping up with our region’s rapid growth is an important issue for our association. We are enjoying an era of great economic expansion, but we must take care to foster it so that young families and big companies will continue to be attracted here. The strain on our schools caused by the booming population is a situation that needed immediate attention and long-term vision; passing this bond was an important step in accommodating our clients’ needs and ensuring we have safe and state-of-the-art learning facilities.”

BRR was joined in the effort by local mayors, chambers of commerce, the school district itself, and several private businesses.  Soren Dorius, BRR’s Director of Government Affairs, says that the REALTOR® Party’s support of the campaign was invaluable.  As the bond issue was the only item on the ballot, it was largely a push to get-out-the-vote. “The required supermajority meant that for every ‘no’ vote, we needed two ‘yes-es’,” he explains. The Issues Mobilization Grant that BRR received helped to fund a persuasive “Get out the Vote” mail piece targeting thousands of households with a strong voting history, and live persuasion phone calls in the final weeks leading up to the vote. The local REALTORS®’ 10% match contribution was funded through their investments into the Corporate Ally Program, which allows for ‘soft money’ from affiliate members and others in the community to be used for issues campaigns.

BRR CEO Breanna Vanstrom recently spoke as a guest panelist at the 2018 Association Executive Institute, highlighting the importance of NAR’s resources in this bond campaign. “We greatly appreciate the financial commitment of our association members and industry partners, allowing us to tackle important issues related to sustainable growth,” she says.  “Their active investment in RPAC and the Corporate Ally Program enables us to demonstrate our ‘skin in the game,’ for critical grants from the REALTOR® Party.”

With the bond approved, construction is expected to begin on the new schools and additions later this year, and the future school sites are secured.  Looking ahead, BRR will be focused on other concerns of a growing population, such as improvements to transportation infrastructure, affordable work force housing, and Smart Growth. Meanwhile, things are looking up for the students and staff of the West Ada County school district, their communities, families shopping for housing in the area, and the REALTORS® who help them.

To learn more about how Boise Regional REALTORS® are using REALTOR® Party resources to help local school districts meet the demands of a growing student population, contact Soren Dorius, Director of Government Affairs, at 208-800-8823.

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Thanks to Alabama REALTORS®, First-time Homebuyers Can Now Save for Down Payments and Closing Costs

When the National Association of REALTORS® announced model legislation for First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account (FHSA) programs, Alabama REALTORS® was right there with them. Using resources from the REALTOR® Party, the association had a bill drafted, and commissioned polling and economic research to help convince legislators of its merit. On March 28, when Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed that bill into law, Alabama joined seven other states in the nation offering this progressive tax benefit. Allowing $5,000 in tax-free annual savings ($10,000 for couples) in accounts designated for first-time down payments and closing costs, the law requires contributions and interest deductibles not exceeding $25,000 ($50,000 for couples) to be used within five years towards the purchase of a home.

“Homeownership is the foundation of strong families and healthy communities,” says Stacey Sanders, AAR’s Public Policy Committee Chair. “Alabama REALTORS® is wholeheartedly committed to preserving and enhancing homeownership as a fundamental component of the American Dream, and we know that the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts will incentivize people to stay and live here in Alabama, in homes that they own.”

Just over a month before the 2018 legislative session began in January, AAR sought polling from the REALTOR® Party using an Issues Mobilization Grant. The results were clear: 90% of Alabamians believe that buying a home is a good financial decision; 79% of Alabama voters see the down payment as the biggest obstacle to buying a home; and 77% of Alabama voters favor the FHSA program. The economic research conducted by NAR showed that an estimated 590 to 3,675 eligible households would use an FHSA, which would result in a positive net economic impact on the state ranging from $2.4 million to $26.8 million in annual economic activity, including the creation of up to 245 jobs in numerous sectors of the economy affected by homeownership. These numbers shaped the talking points that AAR brought to the State House to persuade legislators to support the bill, which had been drafted, and was sponsored by State Representative Kyle South in the House and Senator Greg Reed in the Senate.

AAR created a website resource for the proposed First-time and Second-chance Homebuyer Savings Account program, but the polling and economic data were so strong that there was no need for the association to activate the rest of its planned campaign to drum up public support.

Jeremy Walker, AAR CEO said, “Legislators in both chambers were supportive of the concept of helping a new generation of first-time buyers overcome obstacles such as student loans and create a path to responsible homeownership. We were able to work through concerns raised and reach a final bill with great consensus on the positive impact it will make in Alabama.”

With the legislation enacted and due to go into effect in January 2019, AAR is planning to develop a consumer campaign to increase public awareness of the new benefit, which also includes a “Second Chance” provision for would-be buyers who have not owned a home in the past ten years. It is planning to create marketing packages that will be available to brokerages and local REALTOR® Associations to share with members and clients across the state. “We’ve had an overwhelming positive response from our members, who are excited about the program and bringing new opportunities to help first-time buyers,” says Walker, adding, “We definitely recommend taking advantage of REALTOR® Party resources to pursue this kind of legislation.”

A five-year sunset provision in the final legislation means that the benefit will have to be renewed down the road, but AAR is optimistic that the success of the Alabama FHSA program will speak for itself by that point, and that legislators will continue to see the advantages it brings to the state and its residents.

To learn more about how Alabama REALTORS® is helping to ease the way for first-time homebuyers, bolster the housing market, and strengthen the state economy, contact Emily Marsh, Political Representative, at 334-386-5345.

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Wisconsin REALTORS® Help Lower Property Taxes, Strengthen School Budgets, and Protect Property Rights

2017 was a year full of issues campaigns for the REALTORS® of Wisconsin, resulting in success on all fronts:  a new state budget with substantial increases for school and university funding; the permanent elimination of a property tax that’s been on the books since the Great Depression; and the creation of a new law overturning an old one, severely detrimental to property rights, that had recently been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The victories were achieved through two issues mobilization campaigns, both of which had a strong grassroots component, explains Joe Murray, Director of Political Affairs of the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). In each case, a generous REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant provided WRA with the voter profiling expertise of NAR consultants, and funding for an advocacy campaign involving billboards, bumper stickers, extensive mailings, phone banks, radio and online advertising, and a website.

The first two triumphs, the elimination of a decades-old property tax and the increase in education spending, were the result of the passage of the 2017 state budget proposed by Governor Scott Walker. WRA had advocated with the governor to get rid of the old tax, which only amounted to an average of about $27 per year for most property owners, but which went a long way to supporting the state’s Forestry Division; the budget transferred responsibility for the forestry programs to the general fund of income and sales taxes.  The governor’s budget also proposed a record amount of spending for K-12 public schools, as well Wisconsin’s university system. “We strongly supported the budget, as great schools are important to homeowners with kids, and because high property taxes hurt affordability. Both issues are vitally important to the Wisconsin real estate market, so mounting a campaign to persuade the legislature to pass it was really a no-brainer,” states Murray. The new budget passed in September, and a replica of one of WRA’s colorful billboards from its successful campaign now graces the governor’s desk.

The second effort effectively reversed a local ordinance in effect in 52 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties that sapped the value of adjacent parcels of lakefront properties belonging to a single owner.  In a state of more than 15,000 lakes, notes Murray, “that’s a lot of property owners affected!” In the case known as Murr v. Wisconsin, a property owner supported by the Pacific Legal Foundation argued that because the ordinance took away her family’s right to sell an adjacent property, it amounted to an unconstitutional taking. The Wisconsin Supreme  Court denied her claim, and its decision was then upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  “Not only did the ordinance deprive her of her property rights,” says Murray, “it deprived her of her property’s value. We had submitted an amicus brief to the high court on her behalf, and when her case was denied, we set to work changing the law.” A second Issues Mobilization Grant in July funded a campaign that convinced lawmakers to create a new ordinance that returned rights to Wisconsin’s lakefront property owners. WRA named it ‘The Homeowner Bill of Rights.’  “Property rights are the very core of what we exist for,” asserts Murray. “We’re very proud to have achieved this result for Wisconsin.”

They couldn’t have done it alone, he says: “The tools that the National Association of REALTORS® provides for grassroots issues campaigns are invaluable. Where else would we be able to get such sophisticated voter-household models, and tracking technology for calls and mailings, and expert campaign guidance?  The REALTOR® Party is what makes these successes possible — for property owners across the state.”

To learn more about how Wisconsin REALTORS® are using Issues Mobilization Grants to protect property rights, support school funding, and help reduce property taxes throughout the state, contact Joe Murray, Director of Political Affairs, at 608-575-0023.

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Issues Mobilization Committee 2018 Meeting Schedule & Application Deadlines

(Conference Call Meetings 3-5 PM Eastern Time)

January 17 
Draft Deadline:  January 1
Final Deadline:   January 10

February 14 
Draft Deadline:  January 29
Final Deadline:   February 7

March 14 
Draft Deadline:  February 26
Final Deadline:   March 7

April 18
Draft Deadline:  April 2
Final Deadline:   April 11

May 16 (Wed):  REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo, Washington, DC
Draft Deadline:  April 30
Final Deadline:  May 9

June 13 
Draft Deadline:  May 28
Final Deadline:   June 6

July 11 
Draft Deadline:  June 25
Final Deadline:   July 4

July 25: Contingent Meeting
Draft Deadline:  July 9
Final Deadline:   July 18

August 8
Draft Deadline:  July 23
Final Deadline:   August 1

August 22:  Contingent Meeting
Draft Deadline:  August 6
Final Deadline:   August 15

September 12
Draft Deadline:  August 27
Final Deadline:   September 5

October 10
Draft Deadline:  September 24
Final Deadline:   October 3

November 2 (Fri): REALTORS® Conference & Expo, Boston, MA
Draft Deadline:  October 16
Final Deadline:   October 25

2019 COMMITTEE
November 28 (Wed): REALTOR® Party Training Conference, Minneapolis, MN
Draft Deadline:  November 12
Final Deadline:   November 19

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Ohio REALTORS® Achieve Double Legislative Victory on the Tax Front

There are more than 600 municipalities with an income tax in Ohio, and all business entities and individuals are required to file and pay taxes in each one in which any income has been earned.  To say that the administrative burden this places on real estate professionals is onerous would be a vast understatement, according to Scott Williams, Vice President of Public Policy at Ohio REALTORS®

But all that is about to change:  thanks to a recent legislative dual-victory supported by a REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant, these filing requirements will be significantly streamlined the next time tax season rolls around.  It also helped to shut down a proposed expansion of the sales tax on professional services.

The income tax issue affected nearly all of the association’s 30,000 members, most of whom had been required to file multiple tax returns because of sales activity in multiple jurisdictions, explains Williams.  “It was not unusual for members to have to file a dozen returns,” he notes.  “In one extreme case, in the metropolitan Cleveland area, where numerous suburbs and bedroom communities are all incorporated as their own jurisdictions, one member told me he’d filed 22 separate returns last year!”  Because no consumer or commercial software was available to handle this filing requirement, multiple returns had to be prepared by hand, a service for which CPAs would typically up-charge REALTORS® by an average of 25%.  For years, Ohio REALTORS® has been at the head of a coalition of business groups supporting a transition to a centralized tax-collection system; this past session, with a newly business-friendly legislature and the support of the governor, was the first time the reform had a chance of passing. 

In a separate issue in the same tax bill, Ohio’s governor was seeking to expand the state sales tax to include professional services due to a revenue shortfall exceeding $1 billion.  Although the attempt didn’t have much support in the General Assembly, it still posed a threat to the real estate industry and the broader state economy, and the REALTORS® actively monitored and opposed the proposal. 

An Issues Mobilization Grant allowed the state association to retain the services of an expert consultant to help develop policy, draft legislative language, and assist with the lobbying effort to secure centralized tax collection.  The consultant, who happens to be a former Tax Commissioner of the State of Ohio, had just the expertise that Ohio REALTORS® needed.  “We don’t have an in-house tax attorney,” explains Williams, “and during deliberations, there were sometimes multiple drafts to review in a single day.  There’s no way we could have done it without an outside expert.”  The consultant’s depth of experience working with the REALTORS® over the years also gave him valuable insight, and a significant base of actual data from which to draw arguments for tax-collection reform.  “He was able to run real world scenarios, stating, for example, that Mrs. X had sold three properties in three different jurisdictions last year, and so her actual compliance cost to file a $32 return was exorbitant,” notes Williams.  “These facts were clear and compelling, and made the necessary impression on our lawmakers.”

Ohio REALTORS® also issued several strategic Calls For Action during the course of the session, which Williams points out had the double benefit of applying pressure to the legislature and educating and engaging the membership.  “The new law, which goes in to effect next year, will streamline tax filing for all business net-profit filers who file in more than one municipality,” he says.  “It’s going to make life much easier and less costly for most of our members at tax time, and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without the REALTOR® Party.”     

To learn more about how Ohio REALTORS® has helped to simplify income tax filing and prevent the taxation of professional services in the state, contact Scott Williams, Vice President of Public Policy, at 614-226-3423.

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Indianapolis REALTORS® Spearhead Expanded Public Transportation Funding

The Indianapolis metropolitan region is the 33rd largest in the nation, yet funding for its transit services ranks way down at 86th.  For years, the 7,500-member Mid-Indiana Board of REALTORS® (MIBOR) has been working to shrink this gap, and with two recent REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grants, it has just succeeded.

MIBOR Vice President of Government and Community Relations Chris Pryor states that the REALTORS® are committed to improving transit for greater access to jobs, education, healthcare, recreation and housing.  But it’s more than a simple quality of life issue for the community, he says: “Adequate transit is also the key to keeping greater Indianapolis economically competitive, in terms of being able to attract business and accommodate a talented workforce.  Transit is a critical factor in the region’s future prosperity.”

In 2009, MIBOR was instrumental in forming the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, which identified significant need for increased transit services in the region, and then developed a plan for an expanded bus network and the creation of three new rapid transit lines.  Establishing a local funding source for the improved infrastructure required the blessing of the Indiana General Assembly, a process that took five attempts in six years before finally passing in 2014.  The next step was getting a local referendum passed to adopt a 0.25% income tax that would be dedicated to funding mass transit.  A major Issues Mobilization Grant funded a coalition effort called ‘Transit Drives Indy,’ a campaign combining phone banks, radio and online advertising, and a website urging voters to pass the ballot initiative for a dedicated transit fund.

On Election Day 2016, the referendum passed with nearly 60% of the vote, winning 19 out of 25 city council districts.  Already, MIBOR and its coalition partners were looking ahead to the final  hurdle:  ensuring that the Indianapolis City County Council would vote to approve the tax. 

MIBOR had secured a second Issues Mobilization Grant to support the coalition’s post-referendum strategy, which focused on getting pro-transit voters to apply pressure to city councilors to enact the tax.  After a few intensive weeks of targeted patch-through calls from constituents, the City County Council approved the tax in a vote of 17-to-8.

Lacey Everett, MIBOR’s Government and Community Relations Strategist, says “The campaign we put together was key in getting us over the top, and we couldn’t have done it without the support and resources of the National Association of REALTORS®.  Beyond the funding, the Issues Mobilization team was a great sounding board for lots of ideas, and responded quickly to challenges that arose during the campaigns.”  By 2018, she says, the newly established transit fund will begin building a system that will double employment within a half-mile of frequent routes; triple service to families in poverty, seniors and households including someone with a disability; and expand economic opportunity by providing access to three urban college campuses.  

Pryor notes that the urgency of the region’s transit funding needs was heightened by the nationwide power shift following the elections, which made federal funding that the region had been expecting, uncertain, at best. “Although we still don’t know whether we’ll be receiving a Federal Small Start Grant, at least Indianapolis will be able to move ahead with its much-needed transit plan, once the new tax kicks in this fall.”

To learn more about how mid-Indiana REALTORS® are helping to promote economic development and a greater quality of life in their region by taking the lead on supporting mass transit expansion, contact Chris Pryor, MIBOR’s Vice President of Government and Community Relations, at 317-258-5805; or Government and Community Relations Strategist Lacey Everett, at 317-956-5252.

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Oklahoma City REALTORS® Improve Public Schools & Prevent Urban Flight

Public schools in Oklahoma were struggling.  Nationally, the state ranked 49th in per capita spending for education, and in Oklahoma City, the public school district received a grade of “F” from the state.  As any Oklahoma City REALTOR® could tell you, the resulting flight from the public schools was already having a detrimental impact on local communities, and would eventually threaten the economic viability of the city itself.  But things are looking up:  in the November election, citizens voted in favor of a $180 million bond to pay for school building maintenance, technology, and transportation.  Aided by an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® (OKCMAR) led the coalition that supported passage of the bond.

Gary Jones, OKCMAR’s Government Affairs Director, explains that cuts to the school budget were a result of Oklahoma’s economic downturn caused by the decline in oil prices.  “Our school year begins August 1, and our schools were struggling without functioning air conditioning, let alone a dependable fleet of buses or any new technology in the classrooms,” he says.  “The need was huge, but so was the challenge of tacking a bond measure on to a presidential election ballot, when voters tend to dismiss such expenditures with a ‘no’ at the polls.”

Raising awareness among the voting public was going to be key.  Although the proposed school bond would not affect property taxes or millage, and initial polling was encouraging, the coalition formed by the Chamber of Commerce to improve the state of the school system didn’t have much time to get the word out.  Maintain OKC Schools, as the group is called, planned an energetic campaign to approve the bond, and OKCMAR took the lead by tapping in to the REALTOR® Party’s Issues Mobilization Grant program.

The grant process, says Jones, was not only user-friendly, but helpful:  “The level of detail required by the application caused the coalition to re-think its campaign strategy as it determined the best way forward,” he says.  NAR’s Campaign Services team provided valuable feedback on the proposal created by the local firm retained by OKCMAR to design the campaign.  “We were very grateful for the funding and for that expertise!” says Jones. 

The grant from the REALTOR® Party was used for a highly targeted direct mail program, focusing on voters who had supported school bonds in the past, and reminding them about the current measure on the ballot.  “We got lucky in that the measure was placed on a separate ballot, which happened to be printed on yellow paper,” notes Jones, explaining that the ‘YES the Yellow Ballot’ slogan with an image of a school bus made for powerful campaign branding.  OKCMAR engaged its members in a compelling get-out-the-vote campaign, and many brokers posted bright yellow signs outside their offices.

The bond measure was issued as three separate ballot initiatives: school building maintenance, technological enhancements and transportation equipment.  Although all three passed, the votes were close enough to show Maintain OKC Schools that its efforts were essential to the victory.  “We’re now working to create change on the School Board,” says Jones.  “With the bond resolution in place, we’re optimistic that the right leadership can bring about the transformation we need for Oklahoma City’s schools.”

To learn more about how Oklahoma City REALTORS® are helping to improve their region’s school system with the help of the REALTOR® Party, contact Gary Jones, OKCMAR’s Government Affairs Director, at 405-641-1921.

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Missouri REALTORS® Form Coalition to Fight Sales Tax on Services

In the past seven years, no fewer than twelve pieces of legislation that could have led to a tax on services, including those provided by the real estate industry, were proposed in the state of Missouri.  “The threat is real,” says John Sebree, CEO of Missouri REALTORS®, whose organization has been swatting back each one, with the strong support of the National Association of REALTORS®.  This year, it seized an opportunity to shift from a defensive to an offensive strategy.  Its attempt to amend the state constitution to ban a sales tax on services is ambitious, and possibly unprecedented in the nation, but by appealing to the general public, first to get the referendum on the ballot, and then for votes in its favor, its Missourians for Fair Taxation coalition is finding strength in numbers.

This is not the first time that Missouri REALTORS® has led a charge to amend the state constitution.  It formed the Missourians for Fair Taxation coalition six years ago, to oppose a threatened transfer tax initiative; the Missouri constitution now prohibits such a tax.  That was seen as a largely real estate issue, explains Sebree, but the current referendum on the November 8 ballot banning a sales tax on services is everyone’s issue, he says, and the Missouri REALTORS® are feeling a groundswell of support for their effort to amend the state constitution for a second time.

“The general public may not have strong feelings about a tax on real estate services,” says Sebree, “but in this service-oriented economy, they definitely get it when you talk to them about how a tax on services will increase what they have to pay for daycare, and haircuts and car repair.”  The Taxpayer Protection Amendment, as the ballot initiative is called, opposes what would effectively be a ‘birth-to-death’ tax, he says.  The scope of services that might be affected is reflected in the Missourians for Fair Taxation coalition, itself, which began as a handful of real estate industry organizations, and now comprises twenty-four professional service groups, including those representing the state’s optometrists, broadcasters, cattlemen, interior designers, grocers and funeral directors.

With major backing from NAR and Missouri REALTORS®’ own state-level advocacy fund, the coalition is in the midst of an energetic campaign it hopes will make the Taxpayer Protection Amendment a legal reality.  In its first phase, the campaign was focused on polling and planning.  During phase two, the coalition secured tens of thousands of voter signatures in order to get its amendment on the ballot.  Gearing up toward Election Day, in addition to launching a barrage of paid radio, television and print ads, the cause has garnered an abundance of free media coverage thanks to the rallies held by Missouri’s 34 local REALTOR® Associations.  According to Sebree, social media has also been buzzing: “REALTORS® are naturals at using technology to get the word out; factor in NAR’s incredible resources for targeting likely voters, and that makes for some powerful communication.”  

The outcome is too soon to call, says Sebree, “but we have incredibly positive momentum at this point.  In any event, I’m happy to state for the record that we never could have gotten this far without the great team at NAR, and the support of the REALTOR® Party.”  Julienne Uhlich, NAR’s Campaign Services Manager, points out that the Missouri REALTORS® are pioneering a course that has national relevance.  “As states seek new or increased sources of revenue, the imposition of a tax on services is something that could become an issue for all REALTORS®.  Missouri’s pro-active effort to make it a constitutional impossibility, if successful, will be a great model.  It will not have been cheap nor easy, but this is the kind of action that could save lots of repeated defensive campaigns down the road.”

To learn more about how Missouri REALTORS® are taking the national lead on prohibiting sales tax on services by pursuing an amendment to the state constitution, contact CEO John Sebree at john@morealtor.com or 573-445-8400.

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Massachusetts REALTORS® Energize to Fight Energy Audit

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Massachusetts has been the single most energy-efficient state in the country for the past five years, a rank of which the 24,000-member Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR) is justifiably proud.  But when a bill in the state legislature this past session threatened to require an energy audit to produce an energy score for all houses being listed for sale, MAR leapt to the defense of the state’s homeowners.

Annie Blatz, MAR’s 2016 President, is quick to point out that protecting the environment is a priority for its members, and that the association supports sound policies and programs aimed at protecting and conserving energy.  However, she notes, REALTORS® oppose any policy that arbitrarily restricts private property rights. “Massachusetts housing stock is among the oldest in the country at an average of 54 years. A mandated mechanism that rates homes in terms of their perceived energy efficiency would impose an unfair advantage on older homes entering the market.”

The concept of required energy audits and scores has actually been in the air for years, explains Robert Authier, MAR’s CEO.  “Our Government Affairs Department has been successfully tamping it down, but this summer it really gained traction, and we needed to mount an aggressive effort to derail its momentum.”  MAR turned to the REALTOR® Party for help launching a media campaign and grassroots advocacy response that helped to convince key decision makers that voluntary programs with enhanced incentives was a preferable approach to improving residential energy efficiency.

A $25,000 Issues Mobilization Grant from the National Association of REALTORS® was matched by MAR’s own Private Property Protection Fund.  “The application process was easy,” says MAR General Counsel and Director of Government Affairs Michael McDonagh, who has tapped in to REALTOR® Party funding for other Government Affairs projects in the past, but never one as urgent as taking the energy audit language out of the energy bill.  “It wasn’t overly burdensome, which was key, since a lot of us were out of the office, in the trenches up on Beacon Hill,” he recalls.  “The staff at NAR was great, and expedited the process so that we got the funds right when we had to go in to overdrive.”

With online, radio and newspaper ads, MAR’s campaign applied pressure to the various districts represented by the three state senators and three representatives on the conference committee considering the final energy bill.  “We worked with our local associations to mobilize constituents of those districts to reach out directly to their legislators, and the response was powerful,” says McDonagh.  “It was the advocacy of our locals that made the difference.  We heard from a number of legislators that the message was heard loud and clear, and in the end, we won the day.” 

That message focused on the value of working with the state’4 major electric and gas utilities to find ways to encourage all homeowners to complete voluntary energy audits, and to improve the existing incentives for energy efficiency upgrades.  MAR has already been partnering with Mass Save®, a statewide program financed largely by a modest surcharge on utility bills that offers substantial giveaways, rebates, discounts and loan programs for upgrades from light bulbs to HVAC equipment.  “By engaging our 24,000 members to enlighten their clients about the benefits of having an energy audit, and all the savings available through Mass Save®, the utilities can reach a significant number of homeowners and energy consumers,” notes Authier.  “For our members, it provides a great opportunity to touch base with past clients, and to add value to their service to new buyers too.”

“At the end of the day, REALTORS® care about the environment, and want homeowners to invest in their properties,” concludes Blatz.  “By working closely with the utility companies and programs like Mass Save®, MAR is helping to advance both these causes.”

To learn more about how Massachusetts REALTORS® mobilized to protect their state’s homeowners from mandatory energy audits and scoring, and how they’re working to maintain Massachusetts’ ranking as the most energy efficient state in the U.S., contact MAR’s Michael McDonagh, General Counsel and Director of Government Affairs, at 781-839-5520, or Eric Berman, Director of Communications, at 781-839-5507.

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AL REALTORS® Defeat Flat Tax and Increased Fees with Alabama Homes Matter Campaign

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

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