Lawmakers weigh in on dark store loophole

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MADISON - Local lawmakers are weighing in after Gov. Tony Evers announced his upcoming state budget proposal would include closing the so-called dark store loophole related to property tax assessments.

Evers made the announcement earlier this week speaking at a Wisconsin Counties Association meeting. Municipalities across the state have been taken to court by large corporations seeking to reduce property tax bill based on values of empty stores rather than a fully-operating store.

On Nov. 6, multiple communities across the state, including Rock County, voted in favor of an advisory referendum urging the Legislature to take action on the plan. Legislative efforts to close the so-called loophole have fallen flat thus far, with a bill failing to be taken up for a vote in the past session.

"I was disappointed last session when Republican leaders gave in to special interests who saw no problem with higher property taxes on homeowners in favor of tax breaks for big corporations," said Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, who co-sponsored a dark store bill. "It's far past time to take action, and I hope that Governor Evers's move this week will produce the results that homeowners, small business owners, and municipalities need."

In Beloit, multiple businesses have disputed their property tax assessments, including the Staples Distribution Center, Menards and Woodmans.

"We are encouraged that Governor Evers is making the closure of the dark store loophole a priority in his upcoming budget," said Beloit City Manager Lori Luther. "This issue is a matter of fairness for Wisconsin residents who shoulder a bigger tax burden as a result of the loophole. While the City of Beloit hasn't felt the direct impacts as much other communities in Wisconsin with a heavy retail presence, the loophole has the potential of placing more of a tax burden onto our residents."

Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said the announcement by Evers showed the governor was "standing up for homeowners" in closing the bill.

"I applaud the Governor for taking on the big corporate lobbyists by proposing to close the Dark Store tax loophole in his State Budget," Ringhand said. "Big corporations have been sticking it to local property tax payers by shifting their tax burden onto the backs of homeowners."

Ringhand urged Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, who is vice-chair of the state's Joint Finance Committee tasked with reviewing Evers' budget proposal, "to stand up for taxpayers of Janesville and Beloit."

Loudenbeck said the issue was "very complex and includes constitutional issues because of Wisconsin's uniformity clause," and said she wanted "to wait to see specific details" unveiled by Evers before "making any comments or decisions."

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