On March 23 and 24, BOMA Intl. members convened in Washington, D.C., to meet with their elected officials during BOMA Intl.’s National Issues Conference. With economy and credit-crisis worries looming, and key votes expected on tax issues, energy and climate change, and card check, timing couldn’t have been better for the commercial real estate industry to speak with their U.S. Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill. More than 150 building owners and managers joined with colleagues from their districts and states, and met with an estimated 130 legislators during the 2-day conference.
In addition to carrying BOMA’s advocacy message to Capitol Hill, members prepared for the Hill meetings with a “How to Lobby” briefing and several congressional speakers. Ron Brownstein, political director for Atlantic Media Group, Washington, D.C., shared insights on the importance of the 2008 elections and the Obama presidency. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, talked about the minority party and the importance of Americans voicing their opinions and exercising their right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” despite the current anti-lobbyist sentiment with the new Administration. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), a freshman on the Financial Services Committee, discussed banking and credit issues before the Committee, and reiterated the importance of every American getting to know his/her elected officials. BOMA also welcomed House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who congratulated BOMA on its leadership on energy and sustainability issues.
BOMA members carried several critical, timely messages to their legislators. Congress is presently contemplating additional stimulus measures, the 2010 budget, and another major tax bill. BOMA members voiced the need to support legislation to permanently reduce the timeline for depreciating leasehold improvements to 15 years, support further extension or make permanent the reduced rate on capital gains, and maintain current law that taxes carried interest as a capital gain and oppose any efforts to change the tax code to require that it be taxed as ordinary income.
In addition, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the chairmen of the House and Senate energy committees, are both drafting energy legislation that they hope to introduce this spring. BOMA members articulated that legislation should promote energy-efficiency retrofits to commercial buildings through voluntary incentive programs, such as tax credits or rebates. BOMA members also communicated support for legislation that would set a clear goal for reducing electricity demand through a national Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS).
Finally, BOMA members voiced support for employees having the right to choose whether to be represented by a labor organization by way of secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, as is current law. Legislation has been introduced that would allow a union to become the recognized bargaining agent after persuading a simple majority of the workers to publicly and openly sign a card indicating support for the union. This would effectively eliminate workers’ ability to make the important decision over union recognition in the privacy of a voting booth. This legislation passed the House during the last session of Congress, but couldn’t get enough support in the Senate. This session, with the gains the Democrats made in the November election edging them closer to the Senate’s filibuster-proof majority of 60, the issue has taken center stage. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) was widely anticipated to cross party lines and vote with the Democrats, potentially giving them the 60th vote; however, within hours of meeting with the Pennsylvania delegation of BOMA members, Specter announced that he would vote against the card-check bill, drastically dimming its chance of success. Was that merely a coincidence of timing, or BOMA’s advocacy at work?
How BOMA’s impact will be felt depends on real estate professionals continuing to make the commitment to engage in the political process. BOMA made a great start for the 111th Congress, reminding elected officials that the commercial real estate industry is a significant contributor to the nation’s economic engine, and has the capacity to move the economy like few other sectors. Real estate represents 20 percent of GDP, providing nearly $300 billion annually in federal tax revenues and 70 percent of local government tax revenues. And, with so much at stake, it’s imperative that the industry continues to advocate in a united voice on Capitol Hill, state capitals across the nation, and in City Hall.
For more information on this and other issues, call BOMA Intl. at (202) 408-2662 or visit www.boma.org.