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Q&A with William Mutch: Public policy role gratifying

William Mutch isn’t an elected official, but he’s spent as much time around the halls of government as some politicians.

Mutch was recently named government affairs and public policy director for the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. He tracks primarily city and county issues, works with local and state officials and lobbies on behalf of the homebuilding industry.

Just the thought of poring through city ordinances or other legalese might put some people to sleep. Mutch, however, said he got hooked years ago during a legislative internship while a student at the University of Montana, and that he enjoys being part of the process of crafting public policy.

“Somebody from sort of a regular background can be there, and you’re reading legislation, and having input,” he said. “At the end of the day, something happens (as a result of ) something you might have said, or thought, or read or a change you might have come up with. It’s pretty gratifying.”

Mutch, a Montana native, has more than 15 years of government relations and political experience. He’s worked with the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver, the Colorado Association of Home Builders, and several Republican lawmakers, including former state Sen. President John Andrews and former U.S. Reps. Bob Schaffer and Tom Tancredo. He’s managed legislative and congressional campaigns, worked on statewide ballot initiatives and was executive director of the pro-business group Colorado Concern.

Real estate policy has been a common thread during his work in Colorado, he said.

Mutch, 44, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Montana and a master’s in public administration from George Washington University.

Question: Does state and local legislation really affect the homebuilding industry? Aren’t jobs, building material costs and overall economic conditions primarily the driving factors that propel or derail the industry?

Answer: Economic factors are certainly some of the main drivers behind the strength of the building industry; the vitality of the overall economy, creating jobs and housing demand is certainly at the top of the list. However, increasing the legal liability on builders through construction defects legislation, or raising development fees to levels that make certain cities and counties uncompetitive, are also important issues with substantial effects on individual companies. Government action certainly has an effect on the industry through taxes, regulations, fees and other items that may cause an anti-development business environment.

Q: We’re about a month away from the end of this year’s session of the General Assembly. Is there any particular piece of legislation that’s passed that might affect the homebuilding industry?

A: There have been a number of bills with significant consequences for our industry. Many pieces of legislation have been discussed, or have moved through the process, including proposals relating to the privatization of Pinnacol Assurance, changes to special district laws, oil and gas, and home owner associations, and other major issues. However, such proposals have either been amended with input from our state legislative team, or have been killed, or postponed for consideration in future legislative sessions.

Q: What are some defeated/postponed bills that would have affected the industry? How?

A: A bill was considered prohibiting residential fire sprinklers from being required by local fire districts.  We supported this legislation as fire sprinklers add substantial costs to residential construction and we have not seen evidence that there is a positive correlation between the inclusion of fire sprinklers and the types of health and safety impacts we know are received from very effective alternatives such as smoke alarms — which are a building code requirement and are proven to save lives and property. However, this legislation was rejected very early in the legislative process.

Q: In the homebuilding industry’s perfect world, what state or city law would the industry want repealed?

A: Our agenda is focused first on jobs and the economy because we need to get the economy moving before we can see a real recovery in the real estate sector. In a perfect world, we would find ways to work with state and local leaders to recruit new businesses, establish initiatives to help small businesses create jobs and remove barriers to business so our companies can move forward with new projects, begin employing more people and generate even more jobs through increased demand for development services, building materials, etc.

Q: On the local level, the Springs City Council recently adopted lower water tap fees. Can lower fees really have an effect in boosting the industry with so many other factors affecting homebuilding?

A: This will have a positive effect on homebuilding because tap fees are upfront costs initially paid by the builder or developer as part of bringing a new project to market. These reductions will make Colorado Springs more competitive with neighboring communities and increase economic activity. This showed significant leadership from Colorado Springs Utilities and the city of Colorado Springs, and this initiative is projected to generate even more revenue for Colorado Springs Utilities than if it would have retained, or raised, their fees as initially discussed. 

Q: The homebuilding industry is often lumped together with land developers and targeted by growth critics as responsible for sprawl. How do you respond to critics?

A: We understand real estate development and construction has its critics. When we are in times of recession, communities work with us to generate new projects and economic activity. During boom times, we move into an opposite posture with growth moratoriums, growth boundaries and other initiatives to control growth. Fundamentally, our industry provides a product demanded by consumers who want to own their own homes and enjoy the other amenities of development (such as schools, parks, shopping centers). Americans spend their lives working to save and buy a home, and our members respond by meeting this demand.

Q: Critics also say the homebuilding industry — along with Realtors, the Chamber and EDC and other business groups — spends big money in an effort to influence public policy issues, elections and other community matters. How do you respond?

A: Political involvement is an important part of our government relations program and we encourage our members to be involved in the process. There are a number of groups and organizations who are involved in the political system, and we work to also have our voice heard and encourage our members to support candidates who we believe will be effective representatives for the business community. Of course, it’s our goal to be influential and a relevant group in policy debates, but we are only one of many such groups competing to represent the best interests of our membership.

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