A decision to table legislation on the “dark stores” loophole Wednesday in Madison was not received kindly by some in the state capital or in Kenosha County.
The tax loophole allows big-box retailers to base their tax assessments on abandoned or shuttered stores, saving them millions of dollars in tax breaks and shifting the burden to local homeowners and small-business owners. Senate Bill 130 is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 20 state senators.
When the bill was brought to the Senate floor, the GOP-controlled Assembly refused to discuss or vote on it.
“I’m deeply disappointed that my Republican colleagues, once again, sided with big-box stores and against residential property taxpayers,” Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, said. “It’s shameful that early this week they stripped these taxpayer protections from the budget and now voted against taking up stand-alone legislation.”
Big-box retailers have sued communities to recoup tax money paid based on higher assessments.
Walmart attempted to reduce its Somers property assessment for its store and Sam’s Club by about $7 million, according to Somers Village President George Stoner.
“This dark store thing is totally destroying communities,” Stoner said. “We’re all very, very upset with the leading Republicans, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
“I’ve met with (Assembly Speaker Robin Vos), and it falls on deaf ears. I’m very upset with (state Rep. Samantha Kerkman). She has all kinds of excuses, but they’re all flawed when it comes to helping the community.
“This is the main part of legislation we need, and we can’t get them to move on this.”
In November, voters in all 23 counties, cities and villages with a “dark stores” advisory referendum overwhelming called for policymakers to close the loophole.
The referendum received 79 percent of the vote in Kenosha County.
“To add insult to injury, they blocked their own bill that has overwhelming public and bipartisan support,” Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said.
“This issue is impacting municipalities of all sizes across the state, and it’s one of the reasons we saw a jump in property taxes last year.
“Rather than more tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations, Gov. Evers and legislative Democrats have made it clear we want to close corporate tax loopholes, restore tax fairness and promote economic opportunities for working families.”
When Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, attempted to bring the issue up for a vote on Wednesday, Republicans used a procedural move to block the legislation.
“This move demonstrates how the Republicans would rather defend corporate lobbyists than the homeowners in their districts,” Ringhand said. “People throughout Wisconsin expect the Legislature to be more than a support system for the corporate lobby.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said legislation was tabled to allow lawmakers more time to gather additional information.
“Last summer, a legislative council committee was convened to try and identify common ground on the issue,” Vos said. “The results are being reviewed, and the caucus has not come to a consensus at this time.”
Stoner said it’s just one excuse after another.
“They say it would be bad for business,” Stoner said. “It’s not bad for business. Businesses need to pay their fair share.”