In public policy, a compromise is a win

We recently helped a group representing the real estate industry.  As the industry faced very steep increases in some fees it is assessed at a local level, industry leaders knew they were in trouble.  They knew it was likely that elected officials would sign into law a series of fee hikes that would add tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of many new real estate projects.

They chose to fight back.  They made the case that the fee increases would make new homes harder to afford for middle income buyers, that apartment rents would jump significantly, and that jobs in the real estate industry (from title companies to landscape crews) would suffer as some projects would be scratched.  These were all perfectly reasonable contentions.

But they also knew that there was no way they would convince those in power to enact zero fee increases.  The best they could reasonably hope for was a modest increase.  A hopeful signal came when the mayor hinted that perhaps a gradual phase-in of the increases would be a prudent alternative to a massive overnight increase.

Once the City Council had voted, the phase-in option had won the day.  So, our clients in the real estate business got the best result they could have reasonably hoped for – still a significant jump in fees for the next 12 months, but not the jump of more than 100 percent that some had been pushing.  That hike will still occur, but only after a year, so the real estate industry has time to prepare.  The industry considered it a win.

“Reasonable” and “realistic” are the key concepts here.  We advise our clients often to approach controversy in public policy from a reasonable point of view.  When we prepare arguments that are clearly reasonable, the other side can still disagree but we don’t give them the opportunity to say that our side is crazy or advocating a ludicrous position. If we give an opponent the ammunition they need to label us in that way, we are almost certain to lose the argument. 

It’s hard to dismiss a person or an idea that is reasonable and realistic.  And it’s easier to snatch a win from the jaws of a loss when “winning” is defined as achieving a realistic compromise.  This is the formula for success in the game of public policy debate.

- Eric Whittington