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Architects of Advocacy - How AIA members influenced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017

This article was authored by 2018 AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA, for AIA Architect.

In the closing weeks of 2017, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law No. 115-97, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the most sweeping alterations to the Tax Code since 1986. The bill took shape behind closed doors. No hearings were held. Its final form was negotiated under the budget reconciliation process by a joint House–Senate conference committee.

Despite the cloistered process, the voices of architects were heard. Notably, contrary to earlier versions, the final bill restored (though modified) historic tax credits and provided tax parity for “pass-through” entities like S corporations and partnerships. The AIA’s advocacy strategy and efforts were cited in numerous publications, including The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and Politico, which stated: “The American Institute of Architects … started reaching out to its members in districts represented by the House conferees shortly after they were named this week and urging them to call their lawmakers.”

While it is too soon to know the long-term impact of 115-97, it is important to acknowledge the influence your letters and calls to legislators across the nation had, as well as the expert guidance that the AIA’s Government Relations and Advocacy team had on the outcome. Together, we made a difference under difficult circumstances.

Our credibility throughout this legislative process was enhanced by our profession’s overwhelmingly favorable reputation. We come from every region and have allies on both sides of the political aisle. We work closely with business leaders from every field, and with community leaders from every city and town. We represent thousands of large and small businesses that create good jobs. Indeed, today architecture leads all fields in the percentage of new graduates finding full-time employment (over 96 percent). Architectural billings—documented in the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI)—are viewed as a leading indicator of trends in the $1 trillion U.S. construction industry.

Moving forward, we are well-positioned to play an even stronger role in advocating for our profession at the federal and state levels. According to AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, “there will be a projected need for approximately 25,000 new architecture positions over the coming decade.” We must work even harder now at engaging and inspiring the next generation of architects to become strong advocates.

It is time architects take this to heart. While there are certainly ongoing challenges to our profession—even licensure itself—the preponderance of evidence points to the rapidly evolving relevance of architecture in every major social, economic, and environmental issue facing our nation and the world. Architects can and must play a more visible and vocal role in addressing these key issues.

The American Institute of Architects can view its advocacy successes on Public Law No. 115-97 as testament to its opportunities and responsibilities to shape the world through public engagement. We can have influence when we work together to positively impact our profession and the communities we serve.

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