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 email@example.com or 573-445-8400.