Stirling Properties recently had the opportunity to participate in the ICSC Strategic Leadership Summit (SLS) Fly-In to Washington, DC. My colleagues—Townsend Underhill, Sr. VP of Development; Will Barrois, VP & Regional Manager AL/FL; and Jimmy Maurin, Stirling Properties founder—and I joined nearly 200 industry representatives from 35 states on Capitol Hill to create awareness and advocate for issues that are critical to the commercial real estate industry—OUR industry.
During this drastically changing and erratic political environment, many critical topics that affect our business are on the legislative table. Now, it is more obvious than ever that we must have a seat at that table to help shape laws and regulations that will surely impact all of us. It is essential that we create a strong, united approach to educating elected officials and bringing these issues to their attention.
While at the SLS, a Louisiana delegation met with several political leaders, advisors, and staff, including Senator Bill Cassidy, Senator John Kennedy, Congressman Ralph Abraham, Congressman Garret Graves, Congressman Cedric Richmond, and representatives from Congressman Steve Scalise’s office. A small group of us were also able to briefly talk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
While there are many areas of concern regarding legislative policy that will affect the real estate industry, there are three major issues that we have prioritized—Tax Reform, ADA Reform, and E-Fairness.
Tax Reform is by far the most critical of the issues we are facing because it is the most uncertain and could potentially have the most devastating effects. Even though there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the generalities of reform, specifics of any legislation have yet to be determined.
As some of you may remember, the last major tax reform in 1986 represented the largest ever tax imposed on the real estate business. Taxation policy changes to the elimination of any transition rules and the treatment of pass-through entities hammered our industry and caused many companies to nosedive. The law had a considerable detrimental effect on our industry, the financial markets, and the economy in general, from which it took years to recover.
And now, numerous impactful tax reform policies are back in the spotlight—everything from Border Adjustment Tax (BAT) to the elimination of Interest Deduction and Like-Kinded Exchanges. As these discussions are taking place, it is critical that we convey a solid, informed message so our government representatives understand the ramifications of the policies that they set. To learn more about these tax reform policies, click here.
The ADA Education and Reform Act, H.R. 620, is aimed at improving compliance and discouraging abusive lawsuits over trivial issues mostly in an effort to collect attorney’s fees. This bill closes a loophole that has unintentionally contributed to the significant growth in federal “drive-by” lawsuits, which have increased 37% from 2015-2016.
At the same time the legislation adds safeguards that incentivize the remedy of alleged violations without taking away the right to pursue negligent business owners who ignore compliance. Congressman Ralph Abraham is a co-sponsor of this bill and we need to maintain bipartisan support. To learn more about ADA reform, click here.
E-Fairness legislation continues to be a major challenge, but it is recently gaining broader traction. H.R. 2193, the Remote Transactions Parity Act and S. 976, the Marketplace Fairness Act aim to create a level playing field in the retail marketplace. A sale is a sale regardless of whether it takes place in a brick-and-mortar store or on the Internet. The same rules that apply to local businesses across our nation should apply to online retailers. To learn more about E-Fairness legislation, click here.
Stirling Properties’ Will Barrois, who is serving as ICSC’s AL & MS State Director, was also on Capitol Hill with a business delegation from Mobile, Birmingham, and Huntsville. In all, they had nine meetings with Alabama senators, congressmen, and legislative advisors. He noted, as a whole, they were receptive to working with us on these priority issues. Our government leaders realize the importance of the retail real estate industry—it employs a lot of people and is an integral part of local communities and government funding.
“Every political leader we spoke with was open to hearing our message. They were engaged and invited future discussion—they want to hear from their constituents. Legislators understand the need for open dialogue and for us to have a seat at the table in the decision-making process,” said Barrois.
Overall, the Strategic Leadership Summit was a success and we were able to shine a light on the real estate industry and policy matters that will affect it. We thank ICSC and its staff for doing a fantastic job with coordinating these meetings, while helping us to be more efficient with limited time and thoroughly prepared with effective messaging.
How can you help? Let your voice be heard. As informed business leaders and constituents, we can play the most important role of all in shaping legislation. To contact your representatives or to find your local elected officials, visit the ICSC Legislative Action Center.
If you have questions, concerns, or simply need clarification on any of these policy topics, please feel free to reach out to any one of us directly. We would be more than happy to talk with you.
Speak up, speak out!