insight magazine

Capitol Report

We Want You… to Be Heard

Our combined voices can create advocacy success.
Marty Green, Esq. ICPAS VP of Government Relations


The central tenant of our democratic republic form of government is citizen participation in our electoral and governing processes. Although the partisan tribalism and divisiveness that consumes our political processes have resulted in a diversion of legislative resolutions to many problems of our time, the #MeToo movement and nationwide student walkouts against gun laws and gun violence are strong examples of how collective activism can reset national debate and force change.

While the accounting and finance profession, and more narrowly the CPA profession, is unlikely to face legislative challenges that garner such national attention, the point is that our collective voice as the most trusted business advisors can make meaningful change. In other words, more than ever we need your participation, engagement, and support in both our grassroots Calls to Action.

At the state level, the CPA profession (and us as Illinoisans) faces many foreseeable challenges in the coming year with, potentially, a new governor, great change in the Illinois General Assembly, and a record number of bills — more than 600 — passed during the spring. Much uncertainty lies ahead, which we know is rarely good for business planning or investments, so let me elaborate.

There will be a record number of new members — more than 40 — sworn into the 101st General Assembly in January 2019. This sets up an unprecedented transformation of our state’s legislative chambers. Gone will be many senior legislators who have been excellent go-to allies for both the Illinois CPA Society and the CPA profession. What change will come is unknown; however, the current General Assembly has shown a healthy appetite for introducing legislation. Many of the bills introduced earlier this year negatively impacted the CPA profession and/or its clients, such as taxing investment management services, contingent fee audits, and increasing the Personal Property Replacement Tax on corporations, partnerships, and other business entities. These are just a few examples of the legislation we encountered and opposed this spring. With almost no doubt a tax on professional services will be reconsidered. I expect that we’ll continue to see progressive legislation to increase regulations and expand the tax base when the new General Assembly is sworn in, which means our efforts to thwart threatening bills and fiscal irresponsibility must expand as well.

Serving as your lobbyist in Springfield, I employ strategic efforts on an advocacy continuum to advance or oppose legislation. Key to our advocacy continuum is grassroots advocacy. Grassroots advocacy is one of our most effective efforts because legislators generally want to hear from the “local voice” (the voters in their districts). That said, many legislators also recognize and respect the expertise and professionalism that accompanies the CPA credential. They know that, as CPAs, you’re advising and serving businesses, charities, local governments, and taxpayers in their districts, which further equates you all to financial experts and leaders in your respective communities. Meaning, from an advocacy perspective, your credential makes you a powerful legislative contact and someone who can help make an impact on the legislative process.

For this reason, the Illinois CPA Society has invested in a digital platform that connects you with your respective legislators and lets your “voice” be heard via phone, email, or Twitter. Our Voter Voice advocacy platform allows you to contact your legislators in less than two minutes by clicking the red “Take Action” button in our Legislative Alerts. We even provide a generalized message or script for you to use or modify when contacting legislators. Conveniently, you can do all of this from your smartphone. You can also request updates on the issues you act on and/or forward our Legislative Alerts to colleagues and friends to expand our reach and impact. All in all, Voter Voice was put in place for you to make it easier to get engaged in the issues impacting our profession and our state.

COMPLACENCY BY THE NUMBERS

We understand and respect you are busy professionals with many demands on your time, which is why we sparingly use our Legislative Alerts or issue a Call to Action. When we do send these communications out, it’s because we strongly believe in the need for a grassroots response. Further, when we send out these communications, they’re done strategically by identifying ICPAS members who are directly impacted by the legislation that we’re asking for your action for or against.

While I hesitate to be critical, I do want to share the percentages of members who have responded to a Call to Action on important legislation. In a Call to Action opposing the 20 percent gross receipts tax on investment management services, merely 5 percent of recipients contacted their legislators to oppose the bill. Similarly, in a Call to Action opposing legislation that would authorize contingent fee audits, just 6 percent of recipients responded. The numbers speak for themselves; we need to be more engaged.

I cannot stress it enough that our combined voices lead to advocacy successes. As I stated above, grassroots contact with legislators is impactful. The open question is, if we build it, will you come?

The Illinois CPA Society’s board of directors has directed staff to focus on increasing levels of grassroots participation. We have invested in a digital platform that enables you to communicate with legislators in less than two minutes. We are communicating to you the issues that can directly impact you and the professions you’re in. And while we have had tremendous successes in employing our advocacy tools, we still need you. Our grassroots initiatives can greatly amplify our influence and impact on the General Assembly — if you are heard.

I sincerely thank all who have responded to a Call to Action, and I thank those who will respond in the future. As always, I welcome your feedback on all areas of our government relations efforts. In the meantime, I will continue advancing our advocacy efforts on your behalf and welcome the difference that you can make through your grassroots engagement.
Author’s Note: This column includes my personal observations of the evolution of the legislative environment and are not necessarily the views of the Illinois CPA Society.

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