By Mary Beth Coya
A MAJOR INITIATIVE for the greater Washington region during the past year was to secure sustainable, annual funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or Metro).
Metro is the only major transit system in the country that does not have dedicated funding. Governments and businesses throughout the region worked together with the intention that Maryland, D.C. and Virginia would each provide a source of ongoing funds.
GRANTORS’ TAX TARGETED
While the hope was for substantial state funding, outgoing Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe introduced a budget bill to secure $154 million annually from Virginia, and included a 10-cent increase in the local grantors’ tax. Also included was an increase in the local hotel tax, a transfer of local transportation construction funds to Metro, and some state funding.
NVAR leadership scheduled the first of several meetings with their counterparts in the Dulles Area Association of Realtors® and the Realtor® Association of Prince William. Accepting additional costs on homebuyers and sellers through grantors’ tax increases is a difficult decision for any of the association members to make.
After much consideration, the joint position of the associations was that Realtors® are supportive of strengthening and improving Metro, which is a vital component to the economic success of the greater metropolitan area and provides benefits to the entire state. The associations recognized the need for dedicated and sustained funds for Metro – as long as the funding stream was broad, without a disproportionate reliance on real estate.
The goal of the Realtor® associations was to eliminate, or at least reduce, the proposed grantors’ tax. Throughout the 90-day session, association representatives were engaged with legislators on the issue. Realtor® leaders met in Richmond with the Secretary of Transportation to present their arguments. Association representatives lobbied the legislature for additional state funding and supported a gas tax floor on the regional gas tax in Northern Virginia – both of which ultimately passed. They testified before funding committees and met with local elected officials.
Of additional concern to the association members was the potential diversion of a large proportion of local and regional transportation monies intended for priority infrastructure projects, to instead be used solely for Metro.
GRANTORS’ TAX UNTOUCHED
By staying engaged, Realtors® negotiated the grantors’ tax from the proposed 10 cents to 7 cents, and then to 5 cents in the Governor’s amendments. By including some level of grantors’ tax increase, the Governor’s amendments would have lessened the hit to local transportation projects. At the reconvened session in April, however, the final bill did not include any grantors’ tax.
REALTOR® ENGAGEMENT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Enacting legislation is not a spectator sport. The willingness of the Realtor® leadership to make tough decisions and to stay at the negotiating table resulted in a positive outcome. Metro will receive funding from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. No grantors’ tax is included. Necessary reforms are being made to the governance of Metro.
As local and state officials move forward with Metro, and as local governments seek to replenish some lost infrastructure funds, Realtors® will continue to be part of the discussion. Realtors® gained the respect of legislators and business leaders for bringing increased economic activity, real estate activity and value to the region, while protecting the industry from additional taxes.