Tuesday, November 22, 2005

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.
Dee Long, a member of ME3, explained this legislation to the convention. Many states, including New York, Oregon and Maryland already have tax credits for green buildings, and of course the new B3 guidelines in Minnesota make it mandatory for all publicly funded buildings to be green. This law would provide an incentive for private buildings to follow suit. Because the law results in a reduction in taxes to the state, it has not successfully passed at this point, although it has had more luck in the Senate than it has in the House.

  • 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.
This bill is being strongly pushed by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota as a way to encourage the preservation and utilization of existing structures in the state. The bill is listed under Senate File No. 1659 and House File No. 1731. Liddy noted that many committee members are asking for architects to serve on the committee to help make decisions regarding the feasibility of the bill.

  • 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.
Transit for Livable Communities is a nonprofit organization committed to encouraging alternate modes of transit in Minnesota. One of the biggest Catch 22s in the industry is that current funding for transit comes from a tax an automotive sales. As people buy fewer automobiles and begin to use more public transit, ironically it results in less money available statewide for transit projects.

  • 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.
ME3 views this legislation as a key to encouraging the economic development of renewable sources in Minnesota. Our "fleet" of coal-powered plants is ready to be replaced by a new generation of electricity sources, and it would be best if we could replace them with renewable sources.

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.


Blogger Bridger said...

Excellent post, and the source is so close at hand! Well done. Wonder why other groups aren't seeking AIA Minnesota out for information and resources?

9:15 PM  
Blogger motherjones said...

The post points out very well that AIA is perhaps not the best place for activists. AIA is willing to support others' efforts, but seems to be more on the trailing edge of issues, rather than the leading edge. The AIA can not be all things to all people, and as such, is usually out in front on legislation that effects licensure and the like. It would be impressive to see AIA out in front on some issue that had less obvious links to the design of buildings - such as global climate change or national war making as a security strategy. This is all to point out that professional societies like the AIA spend most of their time protecting the territory of the profession and its money making potential. One should expect anything else to generally fall to the periphery.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Corri said...

I think we should give the AIA some credit for coming forward on issues (though maybe your right, motherjones, that they are not always in the forefront.) The Committee on the Environment has issued an AIA Minnesota Statement on Global Climate Change, and through initiatives like ME3 and the B3 Guidelines (that are mentioned in the post) are trying to change policy. Hopefully, we can absolve the COTE committee one day, to just have the national AIA promoting green building.

At the same time it also seems to me that when we look at the Code of Ethics, in consideration with the statement made above by COTE, that it is an ethical responsibility of all architects to educate themselves on current sustainable practices in architecture. The first rule states, “In practicing architecture, Members shall demonstrate a consistent pattern of reasonable care and competence, and shall apply the technical knowledge and skill which is ordinarily applied by architects of good standing practicing in the same locality.” This says to me that since there is enough hard evidence out there of the building industry’s impact on the environment and health of people that ethically we cannot do things that harm to either one. But this does not seem to be the way it is interpreted by the AIA.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Web Designer said...

Thanks for this great post.

3:32 AM  

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