Local and state leaders: Voters make 'dark store' directive clear

Local and state leaders: Voters make 'dark store' directive clear

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Overwhelming support voiced at the polls for legislation to close the “dark store” property tax loophole has local leaders and state lawmakers confident something is going to be done about it.

“This resounding vote sends a loud and clear message to the Legislature that we need complete action on this issue, not just nibbling around the edges,” Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser said Wednesday. “I hope our representatives in Madison look at the returns from these votes in Kenosha County and elsewhere across the state and act soon to close this loophole that’s hurting homeowners.”

Voters in all 23 counties, cities and villages with a “dark store” loophole advisory referendum on the ballot passed it Tuesday, calling on the governor and Legislature to close the loophole.

Kenosha County voters supported the referendum by 79 percent. In Washington County, 72.34 percent of voters called for policymakers to close the loophole, and in the city of Merrill 76 percent of voters supported the referendum.

“It is something that needs to be fixed, and fixed soon,” said Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian.

Somers Village President George Stoner and Pleasant Prairie Village President John Steinbrink said they are pleased by the voter response to an issue that affects numerous communities.

“It is an important issue to the village and a lot of other communities n the state,” Steinbrink said. “It affects small businesses and residential taxpayers. It is actually an easy fix. Without action, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep taxes low and services good.”

The loophole has resulted in shuttered stores being used as comparisons when determining the assessments of large retail stores, and big-box retailers have sued communities to recoup tax money paid based on higher assessments.

Based on the referendum results, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association urged Wednesday that bipartisan “dark store” tax loophole solution be included in the next biennial budget, and called for leaders of both parties in both houses of the Legislature to support that solution.

Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha, of the 65th Assembly District, said it was “unfortunate” a bill he co-sponsored, which had enough bipartisan support to pass, did not move forward for a vote.

“I think this bill should be on the short list of things we need to attend to in January,” Ohnstad said Tuesday.

Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes, of the 61st Assembly District, said she is looking forward to seeing the recommendation that will come from a special committee looking into the issue.

“We will act on whatever those results are,” Kerkman said.

Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, of the 22nd Senate District, and 64th Assembly District Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, also supported the legislation proposed earlier this year and said Wednesday the message sent by voters will not be ignored.

Wirch said the message from voters is “that big-box stores need to pay their fair share” and that the loophole should be closed.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Wirch said. “It is my hope that in the next session — with voter support in not only Kenosha and Racine counties but all over the state — Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly will get serious about correcting the ‘dark store’ loophole.”

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