2017 was a year full of issues campaigns for the REALTORS® of Wisconsin, resulting in success on all fronts:  a new state budget with substantial increases for school and university funding; the permanent elimination of a property tax that’s been on the books since the Great Depression; and the creation of a new law overturning an old one, severely detrimental to property rights, that had recently been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The victories were achieved through two issues mobilization campaigns, both of which had a strong grassroots component, explains Joe Murray, Director of Political Affairs of the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). In each case, a generous REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant provided WRA with the voter profiling expertise of NAR consultants, and funding for an advocacy campaign involving billboards, bumper stickers, extensive mailings, phone banks, radio and online advertising, and a website.

The first two triumphs, the elimination of a decades-old property tax and the increase in education spending, were the result of the passage of the 2017 state budget proposed by Governor Scott Walker. WRA had advocated with the governor to get rid of the old tax, which only amounted to an average of about $27 per year for most property owners, but which went a long way to supporting the state’s Forestry Division; the budget transferred responsibility for the forestry programs to the general fund of income and sales taxes.  The governor’s budget also proposed a record amount of spending for K-12 public schools, as well Wisconsin’s university system. “We strongly supported the budget, as great schools are important to homeowners with kids, and because high property taxes hurt affordability. Both issues are vitally important to the Wisconsin real estate market, so mounting a campaign to persuade the legislature to pass it was really a no-brainer,” states Murray. The new budget passed in September, and a replica of one of WRA’s colorful billboards from its successful campaign now graces the governor’s desk.

The second effort effectively reversed a local ordinance in effect in 52 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties that sapped the value of adjacent parcels of lakefront properties belonging to a single owner.  In a state of more than 15,000 lakes, notes Murray, “that’s a lot of property owners affected!” In the case known as Murr v. Wisconsin, a property owner supported by the Pacific Legal Foundation argued that because the ordinance took away her family’s right to sell an adjacent property, it amounted to an unconstitutional taking. The Wisconsin Supreme  Court denied her claim, and its decision was then upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  “Not only did the ordinance deprive her of her property rights,” says Murray, “it deprived her of her property’s value. We had submitted an amicus brief to the high court on her behalf, and when her case was denied, we set to work changing the law.” A second Issues Mobilization Grant in July funded a campaign that convinced lawmakers to create a new ordinance that returned rights to Wisconsin’s lakefront property owners. WRA named it ‘The Homeowner Bill of Rights.’  “Property rights are the very core of what we exist for,” asserts Murray. “We’re very proud to have achieved this result for Wisconsin.”

They couldn’t have done it alone, he says: “The tools that the National Association of REALTORS® provides for grassroots issues campaigns are invaluable. Where else would we be able to get such sophisticated voter-household models, and tracking technology for calls and mailings, and expert campaign guidance?  The REALTOR® Party is what makes these successes possible — for property owners across the state.”

To learn more about how Wisconsin REALTORS® are using Issues Mobilization Grants to protect property rights, support school funding, and help reduce property taxes throughout the state, contact Joe Murray, Director of Political Affairs, at 608-575-0023.