Tag Archives: big box

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.

Petition targets Walton Foundation push to privatize schools

Labor and education. Both were on the minds of Americans with the three-day holiday weekend that commemorates Labor Day and signifies the end of summer and the start of a new school year.

So the AFL-CIO figured it was a great time to take on the push by Wal-Mart’s owners to privatize — or corporatize — U.S. education.

In late August, Elizabeth Bunn, director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, urged labor advocates to sign a petition at aflcio.org to “keep Wal-Mart out of our classrooms,” and she wasn’t referring to the school supplies purchased for students at the discount store.

“Back to school isn’t the most fun time of year, but it is especially hard for teachers and students when you have billionaire families like the Wal-Mart-owning Waltons gearing up to use their billions to attack public education and shift much-needed resources to for-profit corporate schools,” Bunn said, appealing for petition signatures. “The Waltons have spent more than $1 billion on their corporate-style education scheme that’s opposed commonsense proposals like giving all kids access to free public pre-K education.”

The concern of the AFL-CIO and many progressive groups is that the Walton family is investing heavily in creating charter schools, promoting voucher systems that transfer taxpayer dollars to private schools, pushing policies drafted through the American Legislative Exchange Council and funding campaigns for conservative candidates from local school boards to the governor’s mansion.

Several years ago, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism documented the influence of Wal-Mart heirs on the 2010 election — six members of the family, none of them residents of the state, were among the top 10 individual contributors to winning state legislative candidates as Republicans took control of the government.

After taking office, Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP majority cut public school funding by $800 million over two years, allocated $17 million over two years to voucher programs and rolled back collective bargaining rights for public union employees.

Estimates suggest that since 2000, the Walton Family Foundation has put about $1 billion into initiatives that promote a corporate-friendly model of education, making Wal-Mart the largest funder of charter schools in the nation. 

The foundation, in 2013, invested millions to mold education policy — money went to the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the right-wing Alliance for School Choice, the New Teacher Project and Parent Revolution Inc., according to Inside Philanthropy — and to shape studies that endorse charter school programs.

Progressives’ worry is that the Walton Foundation’s efforts to privatize education are as threatening to public schools as Wal-Mart’s retail stores are to local businesses and Wal-Mart’s personnel policies are to the economic security of its employees.

Numerous studies show that expanding charter schools and school choice increases segregation — by race, ethnicity and income — and jeopardizes the stability of traditional public schools.

On the Web…

http://act.aflcio.org/c/18/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8964