I can’t be the only one scratching my head over The Gazette’s Aug. 5 editorial, "Don't buy the 'dark store loophole' spin," advocating for property tax increases on homeowners and small businesses so that big-box stores can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Tax attorneys for big-box stores like Target, Walmart, Menards and a growing number of other commercial and manufacturing properties are using property tax avoidance strategies known as the dark store loopholes to shift even more of the burden of local property taxes onto homeowners and small businesses. When big box retailers exploit dark store loopholes to lower their own property taxes, the result is increased property taxes for homeowners and small businesses.
That’s not fair.
The dark store loopholes shift more of the burden of paying for essential local services—like police, fire, and other emergency services—from commercial and manufacturing to homeowners and small businesses. This happens despite the fact big-box stores and other large commercial properties use more of these services than the average homeowner or small businesses! So, big box stores use more, and by using the dark store loopholes, they will pay less and less.
By any measure, homeowners already bear a disproportionate share of the statewide property tax burden in Wisconsin. Homeowners pay 68 percent of property taxes in Wisconsin, which is much higher than in most other states. Homeowners in Minnesota, for example, pay only 50 percent of the property tax levy. In 1970, homeowners in Wisconsin also paid only 50 percent of the tax levy.
Local officials statewide, including many in Rock County, are concerned about more of the property tax burden being shifted onto homeowners. Homeowners should not and cannot bear more of the cost of local services.
There is broad bipartisan support in the Wisconsin Legislature to close the dark store loopholes--to fix the problem!--and stop the tax shift to homeowners. During this last legislative session, two bills closing the dark store loopholes had remarkably broad support among legislators of both parties. One bill had 84 co-sponsors (63 percent of the Legislature). The other had 61 co-sponsors (46 percent of the Legislature). If the bills had been scheduled for votes, they would have passed both houses by huge margins.
Unfortunately, big-money corporate lawyers and lobbyists convinced legislative leaders to kill the legislation, and it was not even allowed to come up for a vote.
That cannot be allowed to happen again next session!
Local leaders certainly agree with The Gazette’s editorial team that “when it comes to taxation, fairness must be paramount.” That’s why the League of Wisconsin Municipalities will work with legislators again next session to try to restore common sense and fairness to the property tax assessment process by closing the dark store loopholes.
Maybe next session homeowners and small businesses will finally win.