Push poll anyone?

[Cross-posting a good story about push-polling on the Transfer Tax (which the commissioners discuss tonight)at BlueNC by Greg Flynn.]

Orange County residents have been on the receiving end of dubious push poll telephone calls recently, described by one recipient as:

...what may very well be the most egregious violation of research ethics I have every experienced. The questions were all about transfer tax in Orange County and it was sleazy. The company was named TDM Research in Birmingham

TDM Research, associated with Democratic political consulting firm The Tyson Organization, whose clients include Bob Etheridge, has been responsible for other dubious push polls in Florida and Virginia in the past.

Why all the fuss? Tuesday evening, February 5th, at 7.30pm, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, at its regular meeting, will a public hearing regarding a Local Revenue Options Referendum. The purpose of the hearing is "to solicit opinion from voters regarding which, or both, of two local revenue options should be placed on a May 2008 referendum for voter consideration." In other words, they are trying to decide between a 1/4% sales tax or a 0.4% transfer tax increase to pay for growth.

The Commissioners have established a Local Revenue Options Education Advisory Committee to help develop and disseminate factual information about the need for new local revenue options but since the first appointment in November have only named 11 members of the 20 member committee. According to today's News & Observer:

Board members are leaning toward presenting only the transfer tax option, but [Commission Chair Barry Jacobs] said they still need to talk it over. He recognizes that a transfer tax referendum would face stiff opposition and might have few advocates. "The home builders and the Realtors have made it clear that they will pour money into campaigns to defeat transfer taxes," Jacobs said. "And since the government's role is to educate, not advocate, it raises the question of where's the counterbalancing force."

Neighboring Chatham County has been a battleground for Local Revenue Options and somewhat of a political laboratory for developers and realtors in recent years. Despite the enthusiasm of county commissioners the transfer tax was defeated in part because commissioners underestimated not just the tsunami of real estate money but the need for public education and active local support. A newsletter circulated in the past few days from Pittsboro Together claims that the Chatham Coalition, which shares many members, chose not to actively support the transfer tax referendum because they had initially been "specifically asked not to be visibly involved". In the interim members focused their energy on the Pittsboro municipal elections and when subsequently asked to support the transfer tax declined to participate in the transfer tax issue for fear of conflating the tax with municipal issues. In the end their fears were realized anyway as the transfer tax drew opponents out of the woodwork.

Home builders and realtors have indeed poured money into this issue and had been amassing a war chest for just this purpose. The Charlotte Observer reports that the real estate industry anticipated and planned the defeat of the transfer tax for years and bragged about it at an event in Raleigh organized by NC FREE:

The real estate industry spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last year to oppose a proposed tax on the sale of property, what it called the "home tax." As it turns out, the industry had been saving up money for the expected battle for at least a decade. ::::: Todd McGee, a spokesman for the commissioners' association, said in an interview Friday that the real estate industry benefited last year from more experience and resources. "It's easy to win the battle for public opinion when you're the only one out there spouting an opinion," McGee said.

NC FREE is an allegedly "non-profit, non-partisan political research business association" that counts Art Pope and NC Realtors' executive director Tim Kent and NC Homebuilders' executive vice president Michael Carpenter as board members. NC FREE has had a semi-dormant PAC since the late 80's but has recently made a new push for contributions calling itself FREEPAC but known officially and enigmatically as NC FORUM FOR RES & ECON ED PAC and has yet to file a 2007 year-end return. In an endorsement of the Money Talks school of public policy:

John Davis, president of N.C. FREE, praised the real estate industry's efforts as a model for other businesses involved in public policy debates. "They hired the best people they could hire," Davis said, "and that made a difference in winning and losing, in a big way."

The coming months will tell whether Orange County can navigate the treacherous path of Local Revenue Options and avoid being crushed by real estate interests to finally deliver a zinger that provides for sustainable growth.

I tried to bring the whole story over, but the code was a mess and I don't have time this morning to cross-post the whole thing. [I added the whole post from BlueNC. -BrianR]

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33 Comments

Kirk Ross's picture

advocacy

One of the reasons a referendum can be defeated is that while there is most certainly a Concerned Citizens of The OC Against the Home Tax on the horizon, there isn't a group outside of government pushing for the tax. The county is not permitted to advocate for the tax, but can produce educational materials. While these will tout the benefits no doubt, the anti-tax groups can be much more aggressive in their arguments.

I think the commissioners are trying to weigh which tax to go for and are seriously considering the sales tax because of what happened in the land transfer battles last fall.

kmr

Ruby Sinreich's picture

The realtors have convinced me

The more realtors & homebuilders fight them, the more I like transfer taxes. If the Commissioners make an appealing proposal, I'll gladly go to bat for it this fall. I won't do the same for a sales tax increase, as that seems like a more regressive solution.
Mark Marcoplos's picture

Two comments

1) The local governments have had no problem advocating for school bond referendums.

2) Local governments and staff have a schizophrenic relationship with the Home Builders Association, the Realtors, and the Chamber of Commerce. They get special treatment as allies and supporters of community values and sustainability. Yet, when the rubber hits the proverbial road, they actively campaign against policies that would advance our community values and sustainability and they don't get called out on it.

Kirk Ross's picture

distinction

local elected officials can advocate and do for things like school bonds (boy howdy), but the guvmint cannot. maybe gerry can enlighten us abut the exact phrasing of the rules.
gercohen's picture

explanation vs advocacy

Goivfernment funds can be used to explain a proposal, not advocate for it. On a school bond, the "explanation" usually consists of photos of run down and overcrowded schools, and lists of all the projects that will be built.  It is not an explanation of exactly what kind of coupons are on the bonds or a discussion of bond arbitrage.  Of course, the kind of school bond "explanation" I have posited is viewed by the public as advocacy, but does not cross the legal line.

 On a transfer or sales tax referenda, a comparable would be explaining exactly what the funds can be used for, but with the problem that under the law the funds are totally unrestricted and a future biord could use them for entirely different things.  The school bonds have to be spent on building public schools, so it can be viewed more narrowly

Mark Marcoplos's picture

a distinction without a difference

The phrasing tucked away in some arcane legislative tome is one thing, but in reality when the commissioners and school board members actively promote school bonds they are actucally doing it. This issue seems like a useful double-standard that allows politicos to avoid discussion of sticky issues. 
Priscilla Murphy's picture

Robocall received

Just came home to find a robocall on my answering machine "urgently" urging me to vote against the dreaded transfer tax, emphasizing that it would come out of home sellers' hides. Is there any group likely to foot the bill for a robocall campaign on the other side?
Jason Baker's picture

...and a glossy in the mail

I just got a nice card in the mail warning me that the Transfer Tax was out to burn villages, kill children, and make it impossible to achieve the American Dream. Or something like that. Paid for by the Citizens for a Better Orange County. Anyone have any idea who these "citizens" are? I'm assuming it was ultimately HBA or NC Realtors PAC money behind the mailing, but I'm curious if there is any actual grassroots opposition accompanying it.

I got one too

Ours arrived yesterday.

As someone who has, over the years, put together a variety of promotional materials with other citizens reaching into their own pockets to fund brochures, etc., if the glossy is an indicator, the Citizens for a Better Orange County are among the best funded citizens making brochures for local causes I've seen in a while. Maybe the Citizen or CH News will look into who is part of this group?

Kirk Ross's picture

FYI

On the statement of organization for Citizens for a Better Orange County the custodian of books information is William DePriest.

Address is listed as 4511 Weybridge Lane, Greensboro, NC 27407

Interesed parties may wish to Google that.

Local RE attorney Tom Holt is the Treasurer.

I look forward to talking with both of them

kmr

support your local newspaper

Orange doesn't need more hurdles to affordable housing

As an Orange County taxpayer who will have an OC house to sell sometime in the next year or two, I want to point out one obvious fallacy in the expensive, slick glossy mailer that's being circulated from the "Citizens for a Better Orange County". That fallacy is that the proposed 0.4% transfer tax won't be passed on to newcomers buying homes in OC. Of course it will. Home sellers will simply raise their selling price by more than enough to offset the tax.

 So, the questions that then arise are what will the impact be and how will the revenues raised be spent? 

As far as impact goes, a tax of less than half of one percent doesn't seem like that big a deal. For most buyers it would probably only add about the equivalent of one mortgage payment to the cost of their house. Yet at the same time, one of the biggest issues that Orange County has is the dearth of reasonably priced housing near living wage employment and grocery shopping. Orange has a chronic shortage of basic "blue collar" housing in safe areas that don't involve long commutes. Where are the houses available for the old tried and true standard of 2.5 times the annual income of a single median income earner? By that standard, this area ought to be filled with houses in the $90K-$130K range.  Anybody that's actually home shopped in that range in the past several years knows how slim the pickings are in Orange. Does doing anything that would encourage blue collar workers and service personnell to move further out into neighboring counties make sense?

 Then there's the issue of how the money raised will be spent. For those of us out in the county who currently get almost zero benefits from living in Orange, rather than the surrounding counties, the question has to be raised whether this tax money extracted from us one way or the other will just get spent on yet more projects that benefit the wealthier parts of the county. Those of us in Efland, Cedar Grove and the Orange portion of Hurdle Mills have been feeling pretty much left out of the county's prosperity for quite some time, and it shows in our schools and lack of parks and services. Yet, these areas are where the growth is happening. What's in it for us?

While, I think the transfer

While, I think the transfer tax is miss directed, I do not think resellers can just pass on the cost. Market conditions will have far more impact on deciding the selling price of the house. The seller will see the expense at closing. Developers selling new houses might have more leeway to hide the cost.

The problem with the transfer tax on resale is that the resale is not causing the growth. Most people move in and out based on where their employment is. The seller is as like to be moving out of Orange County as the buyer is likely to be moving in. The resale is a wash as far as growth is concerned. Therefore the transfer tax would be more aptly named an "Exit Tax".

If the idea is to finance growth then an impact tax on new development paid at closing by the buyer or on new rental units by the developer would target the source of the growth.

As far as being regressive, all flat taxes are regressive to some extent.

Those increases are from the

Those increases are from the normal family growth (couples have additional children) and has nothing to do with existing home sales. It also applies to rental units as well. Internal population can grow not just from those moving in, but because our children stay here and have children of their own, and then help to create a demand for additional new construction. New construction results in additional new growing families.

As I said, most of the time the transfer tax on existing homes is better named an exit tax. Maybe we should also have a birth tax (just kidding).

Anita Badrock's picture

Someone told me of a study

Someone told me of a study which I I will try to find and cite properly here  that estimated the impact of an increase in the sales tax per person in Orange County at somewhere between 10-20 dollars per year.  The average transfer tax will be over 1000.00, but only for people who sell homes. 

 I think that's the kind of information we need to make  an informed decision.

 Does Orange County currently  assess impact fees for new home construction? 

Mark Chilton's picture

Property taxes affect the

Property taxes affect the affordability of housing in our community as well.  We are going to pay for county government one way or another.  Why not diversify our revenue sources through a transfer tax?

We actually have a transfer tax already, by the way.  We are really only voting on how much that tax should be.  Presently it is 0.5%  If the referendum passes it would be 0.9%.

Jason Baker's picture

Reminds me of something I heard...

When I was at the Special Transit Advisory Commission meeting last Friday, perhaps the most pithy comment that I heard was that raising a half-cent sales tax to support a regional transit plan is much less regressive than our current transportation system.

I think a comparable argument could be made to the public that increasing the transfer tax is much less regressive than inadequately funding county services. The county is strapped for the funding necessary to provide adequate parks and other greenspace, schools, public health facilities, emergency services... and for that matter, a comprehensive waste management system to halt and reverse the impact of current and future landfills on the environment and low-income communities. Fortunately, the county has taken the position that it is going to fund needed capital projects and services either way. But in lieu of adequate funding from the state and federal governments, spreading around our income sources is the next best way to prevent us from taxing out low- and fixed-income residents.

One example that comes to mind, especially in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, is that those on the lowest end of the income scale are often renters. While an increase in property tax rates would get passed on to them directly, one-time taxes like the transfer tax could be spread over the life of the landlord's investment, potentially both decreasing rates and increasing rent predictability.

Outing Citizens for a Better Orange County

So, Citizens for a Better Orange County is funded by the NC Realtors? Is anyone from Orange County actually a member of this group? How many Orange County realtors are members of NCAR and do not share this viewpoint?  I'd love for some progressive realtors to form a new group the supports this referendum and is a counterbalance to some of NCARs other views.

Do Orange Realtors oppose Citizens for a Better Orange?

So, Citizens for a Better Orange County is funded by the NC Realtors? Is anyone from Orange County actually a member of this group? How many Orange County realtors are members of NCAR and do not share this viewpoint?  I'd love for some progressive realtors to form a new group the supports this referendum and is a counterbalance to some of NCAR's other views.

David Beck

Citizens for a Better Orange County

First, you gotta love the name.  A couple years ago, Steve Halkiotis was

bombarded by a tax-cutting group that called itself the "Citizens for a

Better Way".  Ever the extrovert, he stated that if these guys have a

better way, would they please tell him what it is.

 

I also got the brochure from Citizens for a Better Orange County.

Yesterday (Weds) I recorded a commentary on WCHL about this issue

which plays several times today.  It basically chided CBOC (all good organization

names can be abbreviated, of course) for being negative and asked

them to suggest, should the referendum fail, another method to

fund our schools.

Joe Capowski  (sorry I forgot to log in)

 

Mark Chilton's picture

Perdue Pushing?

My household just got a push poll call disparaging Dem. Gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore.  If this is the Perdue campaign at work (and it sounds a lot like it is) then she should be ashamed of herself.  The caller, when pressed on the matter, said should did not know who was paying for the "poll" but that she works for Peter D. Hart Research in Washington, DC.

Seems like it would not be hard to determine which campaign is using the services of Peter D Hart . . .

Fred Black's picture

Well,

it may not prove anything but on the SBOE campaign reports page for the Perdue Campaign, in September of 2007 they paid Hart's firm $34,000 and in October, $21,000 for "Research Consulting." 

From prior experience, this firm has always been seen as one of the very top in the business.  Their political division is the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group.