By Brian A. Bernardoni
On occasion, I receive e-mails from members of the real estate community who are upset about the outcome of a piece of legislation in Washington, D.C., Springfield, or here in Chicago. From my standpoint as a former community leader, I don’t mind the complaints. Complaints give me an idea about what excites people, an opportunity to educate them and perhaps get them involved in a solution.
Some of you may have issues with the recent massive tax increases levied on all of us by the County Board, the City Council, and, of course, the CTA Pension Reform, which increased the real estate transfer tax. We took issue with these taxes as well. If you are angry, I don’t blame you. We organized, debated and testified against many of these proposals on behalf of the public and the real estate industry. But still, there are some who don’t feel we did enough. Here is an example of a letter I received:
Dear Chicago Association of Realtors:
What do we get for the dues that we pay? What kind of support do we get when the real estate transfer tax has been increased? I always thought we have someone that represents our industry from these drunken spending politicians.
– Angry Agent
Assuming many of you feel the same way, I have created a public response.
Dear Angry Agent:
1. The Illinois Association of Realtors (IAR) provides someone who represents your industry on a full-time basis, and I am that person. I keep an office in Chicago at CAR’s 200 South Michigan Ave. central office. In short, your IAR dues are primarily what fund CAR’s Governmental Affairs department. Through a unique relationship, CAR generously provides an office and administrative support along with committee funding.
2. IAR, in coordination with CAR, spent nearly a year fighting this tax in Springfield and again in Chicago. I am certain you are aware of the thousands of hours that were spent in meetings brainstorming for alternatives to this tax, and these efforts went to the very end of a historically-long session made even longer because of our efforts. If you provided an idea to fund the $300 million need for the CTA pensions, then thanks. Those ideas prolonged the Spring 2007 session of the General Assembly into overtime, which kept us all busy through the holidays and did not officially end until January 2008.
3. Over 20 distinct “calls to action” asking for your participation were requested of members from both IAR and CAR. These requests were critical for every vote, procedural or otherwise. Legislators were so concerned that because of your calls, we forced enough votes off the bill so that they could not pass it. The transfer tax sponsors had to delay a vote on the bailout until Spring 2008 because only a simple majority was needed to pass the transfer tax authorization at that time.
4. Over $250,000 in IAR advocacy dollars were spent with a media blitz. These are additional IAR funds spent when the industry is being hit hard on a matter of public policy. Add to that the full time lobbying on the bill, and you will find significant engagement over the course of that year with a coalition of business and housing groups being built as well. The media blitz included radio and print ads and the inception of wrongtax.com.
5. In the past six years alone CAR has not only has blocked previous attempts annually from the City, but has also blocked attempts from the County to raise the transfer tax. It took an act of the Illinois General Assembly to supersede our past efforts. That action, which removed the requirement to have a referendum to approve a transfer tax for the CTA bailout, created the opportunity for the City Council to act.
6. Online, you can find various articles detailing our governmental affairs engagement. You can also find articles relating to our efforts to block the transfer tax and the hundreds of other issues we take on during the course of the year at Crains, The Chicago Sun Times, The Chicago Tribune and chicagorealtor.com. Further, we meet monthly as a governmental affairs committee on the second Friday of each month at 9:30 a.m. at CAR Central and you are invited to participate. We also have a visible presence at City Hall and Cook County every day, so you can reach me there as well.
7. At the City Council, we were only able to pull six votes off the bill. One person lost committeemanship of his ward because he supported us. Others will face similar issues, as the Mayor of Chicago made funding CTA his highest priority. You can see his reaction to the vote on youtube.com.
I assume that you, like some 3,000 other Realtors, responded to each IAR and CAR call to action on the transfer tax, looked at our transfer tax calculator and shared it with your clients to encourage them to get involved, called your Aldermen after our week-long transfer tax “wrong tax” media blitz on the radio and in print, and I assume you also talked, sent letters and visited your state representatives and senators during the battle in Springfield. I hope you asked others to do the same, and that you vote and participate in RPAC. For all of that I thank you.
Perhaps I saw you in Springfield recently, where hundreds of Realtors are meeting once again for the second time in less than six weeks to discuss public policy matters, from license law to landlord tenant issues to other tax proposals and matters in addition to the hundreds more items at the state level alone. If so, I missed an opportunity to thank you for all you did with us on the transfer tax as well as for being interested in the future of your industry which, as you know, is always under attack.
Like you, I am personally vested in this industry and I am sorry we came up short. This was the largest such initiative in the 125 year history of the association and we are thankful for your dues dollars. We will continue to make every effort to gain your trust.
Finally, in regards to the drunken spending politicians, to my knowledge, having attended hundreds of meetings with them over the course of my service to the Realtors, they are sober when they make most of their bad decisions.
Brian A. Bernardoni
BRIAN A. BERNARDONI IS THE DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS FOR THE CHICAGO ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS AND IS ALSO THE CHAIRMAN OF THE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS DIRECTORS FOR THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS FOR 2007-2009. HE CAN BE REACHED AT BBERNARDONI@CHICAGOREALTOR.COM.
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