By Robert Freedman, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
After fighting real estate transfer tax proposals in their state legislature no fewer than eight times since 2001, REALTORS® in Montana joined with home owners, ranchers, and others to get a constitutional amendment passed last year to prohibit these taxes once and for all. When the amendment came before voters, almost 75 percent supported the amendment to prohibit the transfer taxes.
To play the prominent role that they did, REALTORS® in the state leveraged political advocacy funds and on-the-ground assistance from NAR, and that help, state leaders say, was pivotal to their success. “It was phenomenal,” says Ryan Swinney, president of the Helena (Mont.) Association of REALTORS®. “Without their help, we couldn’t have been [in the fight],” says Ronda Tompers, president of the Montana Association of REALTORS®.”
Outside the Montana legislature
Tompers and Swinney joined their colleagues and members of NAR’s leadership in Helena last week when NAR’s Home Ownership Matters bus tour stopped outside the Montana state capitol for an event.
At the event, the two association presidents said they support passage of the REALTORS® Political Survival Initiative, which comes up for a vote by the NAR Board of Directors in May, because as they see more efforts to regulate or tax real estate in the years ahead, they want the greatly increased level of advocacy dollars and assistance that the initiative will mean to their associations.
“The issues are just ongoing,” says Swinney.
“Right now we’re fighting issues with subdivision rules,” Tompers says. “We want owners to be able to subdivide their property without going through a lot of hassle and cost.”
The REALTORS® Political Survival Initiative will make available to local and state REALTOR associations far more in advocacy resources than they have now. REALTORS®’ federal efforts would get a boost too, but two-thirds of the advocacy resources that would be generated in the years ahead would go to state and local associations so they can continue to fight and win the kind of battles that REALTORS® continue to confront. “We’re always fighting water and land issues,” says Swinney.
If the initiative passes, tens of millions of dollars and resources would flow to REALTORS® over the next several years through their state and local associations for political advocacy. Associations that requested it would also get stepped-up on-the-ground assistance.
The boost in resources comes at a time when real estate interests are under increasing threat at all levels, particularly as state and local governments look for ways to close their record budget gaps.
At the federal level, real estate is under unprecedented pressure, with lawmakers in Congress talking about paring back or even eliminating the mortgage interest deduction and eliminating all federal involvement in the secondary mortgage market, which is crucial for maintaining safe and affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgage financing.
These pressures come at a time when the American political process is in upheaval, with far more money flowing into state, local, and federal issues campaigns and political races as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, in Citizens United, to allow unfettered flows of corporate dollars into campaigns and issue advocacy. That increased flow of corporate money isn’t just an issue on the federal level; it opens the door to corporate money in the 23 states that previously banned such corporate involvement, so corporate funds can now be used in political activity in all 50 states.
“Are we prepared to make the commitment to compete in this new environment?” NAR President Ron Phipps asked when he was in Portland, Ore., two weeks ago for the Home Ownership Matters bus tour.
Phipps and Vince Malta, NAR vice president and liaison to government affairs, said in a video message from Portland that REALTORS® will ultimately decide whether to make the commitment to maintain REALTORS®’ strength in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts by letting their representatives on NAR’s Board of Directors know their views.
Tompers and Swinney say they made up their mind after seeing how crucial REALTORS®’ political advocacy program was in the transfer tax amendment fight last year. “Being the president of a local association, we always have to weigh the costs and benefits of what the dues dollars do,” says Swinney. “What I saw personally with NAR’s assistance last year, with the constitutional amendment, the investment is nothing compared to what this initiative can do for us.”
In this three-minute video, Tompers and Swinney talk about their support of the REALTORS® Political Survival Initiative.