GOP Leaders Bow to Special Interests on “Dark Store” Bills

February 8, 2018

GOP legislative leaders say they’ve ruled out action this year on two bills that would close a loophole that big box stores and other companies use to lower their tax assessment and force homeowners to pay higher taxes or communities to cut services.

Walgreens, Menards, Target, Lowe’s, and others have successfully challenged and slashed their local property tax assessments numerous times throughout the state in recent years, using the “dark store” loophole . The loophole was created by a 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that allows the value of operating stores to be based on the substantially lower tax assessments of vacant big-box stores. It decreases tax revenues for local communities, thus forcing homeowners and renters to pay more.

The bipartisan measures to address the problem, Senate Bills 291 and 292, were introduced last summer and received overwhelming support at public hearings last fall. Last December, numerous communities throughout the state held a “Dark Store Day” to draw attention to the legislation. In recent years, more than 50 counties and communities have passed resolutions asking state lawmakers to close the loophole.

But GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told a meeting Wednesday of the Wisconsin Counties Association that the measures would not pass in 2018. Fitzgerald said the issues were complicated and needed more study.

A more likely reason is Vos and Fitzgerald are caving in to powerful special interests that oppose the bills, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group. WMC secretly raised and spent about $32.7 million between January 2006 and December 2017 on outside electioneering activities in legislative and statewide races to support conservative and Republican candidates. Here are the other special interest groups and industries that back this loophole:

Americans for Prosperity

Walmart

Walgreen Co.

Wisconsin Restaurant Association

Union Pacific Railroad

CVS Health

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce

Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin

Marathon Petroleum

Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers

Outdoor Advertising Association of Wisconsin

Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association

Wisconsin Independent Businesses

T. Wall Enterprises Management

Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association