Exercise Your Freedom

Oct. 11, 2010
The electoral race is fast approaching with many key industry issues on the line

One of the most important rights that U.S. citizens have is the right to vote. In my opinion, it's not so much a right as an obligation. And you and I as tax payers, as professionals, as family members, and as individuals should not only vote, but also encourage those around us to do so as well. I don't mean tell them how to vote, just tell them to vote. Apathy just doesn't fly with the gravity of the issues at hand. But a little passion and activism can, and will, go a long way.

As real estate professionals, it would be hard not to have noticed that we're under fire in Congress. With all of the credit and economic issues that have hit both residential and commercial real estate, you would think that Congress would realize that public policy needs to help support this backbone industry and avoid actions that could lead to less real estate investment in our cities. There is a lot of finger-pointing going around: blame for the recession and resulting unemployment, and blame for not doing more, or the right things, to fix it.

On Tuesday, November 2, every member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection; the current ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 278 to 155, with 2 vacancies. In the Senate, there are 37 seats up for grab (34 for full six-year terms and 3 for shorter terms) and there are currently 57 Dems, 41 Republicans. The remaining two seats are held by Independents.

At the state and local level, 2010 features the most gubernatorial races ever on the same ballot - 37 offices are up for grabs. Democrats have an incumbent running for re-election in nine states, and Republicans have an incumbent running for re-election in eight states. There are 20 open seats, 10 of which are occupied by a Democrat and 10 of which are filled by a Republican. Forty-six states will hold legislative elections this year. Democrats currently control 61 of the 99 chambers. With just a switch of five or fewer seats, 21 chambers could change partisan control.

So it doesn't take a pundit to point out that this could be a pivotal, if not historic, election, and that your vote will make a difference.

Voters will be faced with almost 200 statewide ballot measures. These initiatives cover the gamut from drug policy to budget issues. And as we all know, real estate is often looked to as the "deep pockets" for cash-strapped states. Of interest to the commercial real estate industry are measures relating to taxes, sustainability and development. California Proposition 23 would temporarily suspend AB 32, a 2006 bill mandating the implementation of a comprehensive greenhouse gas reduction program, until the state's unemployment rate drops below 5.5 percent. Florida's real estate industry faces a serious threat from Amendment 4, a measure that would require voters to approve all local land use plan changes, rather than have those changes approved or rejected by city or county commissions.

There are some very scary issues out there that threaten your livelihood – from a potential tax increase on carried interest to energy efficiency targets so high they can't be achieved cost-effectively. The issues we've battled (and so far won) in 2010 are significant, but they can resurface at any time. And we can expect to see even bigger tax battles, as tax reform and capital gains tax increases are also on the table.

You owe it to yourself and to your industry to take some time now to understand the issues and to understand the choices you will be asked to make on November 2 when you go to the polls.

Karen Penafiel is vice president of Advocacy with BOMA International. She can be reached at [email protected]

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