Political Activism by AIA MN
I recently attended a session at the AIA Minnesota Annual Convention about the legislative initiatives currently underway by AIA MN and its associates. Because AIA MN is a large organized group of professionals, it can serve as a successful constituent in pushing for legislation that supports its goals. This political involvement is probably one of the best ways, after the work being done by the housing advocacy committee, that the AIA in Minnesota pushes an activist agenda. The four initiatives discussed at the session included:
- High Performance Buildings Initiative. Senate File 1685 by Senator Larry Pogemiller and House File 2015 by Representative Laura Brod aim to provide certain tax incentives for the construction of high performance commercial buildings. So that the bill does not impede on the tax base for the state, the method utilized is to reduce the assessed value of high performance buildings so that the owners are taxed at a lower rate. In other words, if the building exceeds the energy code by 20-30%, the market value of the buildings is reduced by 5%. The increment of reduction increases as the amount of energy used decreases.
- Historic Preservation Tax Credit. Since 1976, there has been a federal tax credit for commercial buildings that reutilize an existing historic building. At the convention, architect Chuck Liddy explained a bill that would supplement this federal tax credit with a Minnesota credit. If a cost of historic preservation in Minnesota exceeds 50% of the base cost of the construction, the owner could recoup a 25% tax credit via a reduction in state income taxes. Unlike the federal credit, the Minnesota credit could be applied to both commercial and residential property.
- Transit for Livable Communities. Transportation Choices 2020 proposes a 1/2% regional sales tax in the metropolitan area to fund the full Metrotransit plan for the area by the year 2020. The metropolitan area of Minneapolis has the eighth highest number of lane miles per capita compared to any other city in the U.S. Part of the problem with funding transit projects is that there is no dedicated source of funding for them. This bill proposes to change that.
- Renewable Electricity Standard. Currently, Minnesota requires its utilities to "make a good faith effort" to meet 10% of their electricity needs with renewable sources. ME3 is currently pushing for legislation that requires the utilities to have 20% of the total energy come from renewable sources by 2020. Twenty other states have similar legislation already in action.
Although each of these pieces of legislation were introduced by nonprofit organizations other than the AIA, the AIA has been fully supportive of these bills. Many of the presenters identified how important it was for them to have the backing of a professional institution like the AIA. Although we as architects and designers may shy away from becoming involved in the legislative scene, it is clear that our activism in pushing for laws that define the built environment is an important part of our professional responsibility. Getting involved with AIA MN"s Government Affairs Committee is one way to make your voice heard.