Tag Archives: revenues

Cities struggle as big box retailers fight to minimize tax assessments

Some big-box retailers in Wisconsin have successfully challenged their tax assessments by claiming they should pay the same rate as a store that’s closed and remains vacant.

Critics say that “dark store” legal loophole could cause municipalities to raise residential taxes to make up the difference.

The legal tactic is relatively new and has some cities struggling to keep up, according to Rocco Vita, chairman of the Wisconsin Association of Assessing Officers’ Legislative Committee.

“The stores have this very polished and professional legal team that peddles a product — property tax mitigation strategies,” Vita said. “All of a sudden, this strategy is gaining power in the Midwest. It has taken people by surprise.”

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue requires property tax assessors to account for the fair market value of a property. That includes both the value of the building and its location.

Retailers have successfully argued in court that there should be no tax difference between their thriving businesses and the vacant retailers down the block, Vita said.

In one case, Menards argued in a lawsuit filed in July that the value of its store in Fond du Lac assessed by the city at $9.2 million should be no more than $5.2 million. A similar lawsuit from Target argues that Fond du Lac should reduce its taxes on the retailer by about a third, according to USA Today Network-Wisconsin.

In another case, Oshkosh was ordered to pay Walgreens nearly $306,000 in overcharged taxes, plus court fees and interest. Last summer, two similar lawsuits surfaced from Menards and Lowe’s.

Oshkosh City Attorney Lynn Lorenson said municipalities are worried that as retailers win these lawsuits, more stores will follow. The limits of the loophole are unclear, she said.

“If one type of business or one type of property gets more favorable treatment, then everybody is going to be looking at that,” Lorenson said. “They’ll say, ‘If Walgreens had success, maybe we can use a similar argument.””

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities has helped draft legislation to plug the loophole, according to Curt Witynski, the league’s assistant director. The league hopes lawmakers will introduce in January.

Growing stronger: Milwaukee County Board adopts SEED Program | And more community briefs…

The Milwaukee County Board has adopted the SEED Program — Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Deserts of food — which is aimed at eliminating food deserts by working with community partners to provide fresh produce to neighborhoods in need, increasing community gardens and planting urban fruit orchards. SEED will partner the county with the Hunger Task Force, Growing Power and UW-Extension. Hunger Task Force will operate a Fresh Mobile Market to serve residents who live in food deserts. It begins traveling to senior housing and meal sites in November.

Also as part of the program, Growing Power founder and president Will Allen has signed a lease with Milwaukee County to cultivate 10 acres of land and plant 4,000 fruit trees in Oak Creek that will bring fresh fruit and jobs to the community.

“The SEED program is blooming, and the fruits of our work and vision are being harvested for the people we represent,” said County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic. “We need new, bold solutions for the challenges we face in our neighborhoods. We can reduce health problems and increase nutritional value with these partnerships. We are on the road to a stronger city and county with the SEED program.”

Other community briefs…

• SEASONAL SHIFT: The Dane County Farmers Market moves indoors on Nov. 14 — and stays there until the spring thaw. Vendors at Monona Terrace will sell pastries, cheeses, meats, honey and more. For more, go to dcfm.org.

• SUSTAINABLE SUPPER CLUB: Centro Hispano, Center for Resilient Cities and Sustain Dane held the annual Food Summit in late October, bringing together activists, farmers, restaurateurs, gardeners, educators and food-makers to promote community, neighborhoods and healthy living. For more, go to sustaindane.org.

• SOLAR ED: More than 60 hours of training — from January to May — are being offered by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association through the Solar Training Academy. Classes will be held in Milwaukee, as well as in Normal, Illinois; Dubuque, Iowa; and Cottage Grove, Minnesota. For more, go to midwestrenew.org.

• PROGRESSIVE CHURCH WORKERS: Call to Action, the largest Catholic equality and justice group in the United States, holds its 39th annual conference in Milwaukee on Nov. 6–8. About 1,200 Catholics will gather under the banner “Love Radically. Live Faithfully.” For more, go to cta-usa.org.

: Pride at Work, a national LGBT labor rights group, hosts its national convention on Dec. 3 at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. For more, email

• FREE SCREENING: Unitarian Church North, 13800 N. Port Washington Road in Mequon, hosts a free screening of This Changes Everything — Capitalism vs. the Climate, based on Naomi Klein’s bestselling book, at 3 p.m. on Nov. 14. Seating is limited but can be reserved at www.tugg.com/events/72405 or by calling 262-375-3890.

• GARDENING AMENDMENT: Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve F. Taylor sponsored a budget amendment to allocate $51,000 to address staffing concerns at Hales Corners’ Boerner Botanical Gardens. The proposal would assign three seasonal horticulturists during the garden’s peak season, with one dedicated to each specialty garden. Supervisor Anthony Staskunas co-sponsored the amendment, which is revenue neutral. 

National park advocates warn of revenue shortfalls with government shutdown

National parks advocates are urging Congress to pass a spending agreement to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1 and warning that a shutdown would significantly harm national parks and cost millions in lost revenue for local communities.

In a letter to members of the House and Senate, the National Parks Conservation Association said the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 forced the closure of all national park sites and that another shutdown would result in more than 770,000 visitors being turned away each day the parks are closed. That could mean as much as $42 million in visitor spending being lost every day at a time when the Park System is experiencing record-breaking attendance in advance of its 2016 centennial.

“A government shutdown only brings into focus the families, communities, businesses and dedicated park rangers who struggle while our national treasures are shuttered,” according to the letter from NPCA president Clark Bunting, noting that the 2013 government shutdown turned away almost eight million visitors, costing local communities nearly a half billion dollars in lost revenue.

“Today the shutdown would once again be a sad chapter in the struggle to adequately fund our nation’s needs, including America’s national parks.” 

The prospect of another government shutdown comes at a difficult time for the National Park Service, which has had its operating budget cut by more than 7 percent over the past five years, in today’s dollars. These cuts have resulted in fewer rangers to protect parks and greet the public while leaving roads, trails, visitor centers and other infrastructure elements crumbling.

With a maintenance backlog that has grown to $11.5 billion due to a significant decline in construction funding and insufficient investments in the transportation funding bill, Bunting said the only way to get parks back on track is to restore park funding to pre-sequester levels and provide the funding parks need to prepare for the centennial year and beyond.

“Rather than threatening another damaging shutdown, Congress should be preparing for the influx of visitors expected during the national parks’ 2016 centennial year by pursuing a deal that can allow for needed restoration of funding for national parks,” Bunting wrote. “We urge swift passage of a bipartisan continuing resolution clean of environmentally damaging policy riders, followed by a committed bipartisan effort to enact a budget deal that replaces the sequester and allows for the needed restoration of funding for the National Park Service in Fiscal Year 2016.”

Pot sales generate more tax revenue than alcohol sales in Colorado

For the first time in history, a state has generated more annual revenue from taxes imposed on marijuana than from taxes imposed on alcohol.

The Colorado Department of Revenue says the state collected nearly $70 million in marijuana-specific taxes and just under $42 million in alcohol-specific taxes from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

The news comes as Colorado prepared for a “marijuana tax holiday,” during which the state was suspending marijuana-specific taxes for one day.

“Marijuana taxes have been incredibly productive over the past year, so this tax holiday is a much-deserved day off,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project and a co-director of the campaign in support of the 2012 initiative to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Colorado.

He added, “This will be the one day out of the year when the state won’t generate significant revenue. Over the other 364 days, it will bring in tens of millions of dollars that will be reinvested in our state.”

Colorado raised nearly $69,898,059 from marijuana-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $43,938,721 from a 10 percent special sales tax on retail marijuana sales to adults and $25,959,338 from a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers of marijuana intended for adult use.

The state raised just under $41,837,647 from alcohol-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $27,309,606 from excise taxes collected on spirited liquors, $8,881,349 from excise taxes on beer, and $5,646,692 from excise taxes collected on vinous liquors. These figures do not include standard state sales taxes or any local taxes.

 “It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market,” Tvert said. “It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.”

University of Dayton becomes 1st Catholic school to divest from fossil fuels

The University of Dayton, a leading Catholic university and the largest private university in Ohio, is divesting its $670 million endowment from fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental action group 350.org, had praise for the decision: “Earlier this year, Pope Francis said ‘if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us. It’s very good news to see Catholic institutions starting to put his wisdom into effective practice, and stand up to the powers that are trying to profit at the expense of all who depend on the proper working of this good earth.”

University President Daniel J. Curran said the decision was consistent with Catholic social teachings, the school’s Marianist values and a campuswide policy promoting sustainability initiatives. “We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable people,” Curran said earlier this month. “Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet.”

The university is the first major Catholic institution to join the divestment campaign and, at $670 million, the largest endowment yet to fully divest from the 200 fossil fuel companies that hold the largest coal, oil and gas reserves.

Stanford University recently divested its $18.7 billion endowment from coal companies, but is still considering divesting from oil and gas.

The University of Dayton’s divestment is planned to occur in phases. The university will initially eliminate fossil fuel holdings from its domestic equity accounts. The university then will develop plans to eliminate fossil fuel from international holdings, invest in green and sustainable technologies or holdings, and restrict future investments in private equity or hedge funds whose investments support fossil fuel or significant carbon-producing holdings.

Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said, “We applaud the University of Dayton for taking this step as perhaps the first U.S. Catholic university to divest from fossil fuels. This is a complex issue, but Catholic higher education was founded to examine culture and find ways to advance the common good. Here is one way to lead as a good steward of God’s creation.”

The announcement came in the same month that President Barack Obama endorsed the growing divestment movement in a speech at the University of California-Irvine. There, the president told students, “You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.”

More than a dozen universities or colleges have committed to fossil fuel divestment. So have more than 20 cities, 27 private foundations and more than 30 churches, congregations, or dioceses.