This year in Wisconsin, an estimated 2.8 million federal tax returns will be filed by the April 17 deadline. Additionally, local governments and school districts in the state can expect to collect more than $9 billion in property taxes this year to fund our schools, police and fire departments, and other public services.
However, one company that has not been paying its fair share in property taxes is Walmart, and it’s using something called the "dark store" tax loophole to shift that burden onto America’s homeowners.
The dark store tax loophole allows big-box retailers like Walmart to reduce their property taxes by appraising their property as if it was a vacant or “dark” store, thus resulting in a lower tax assessment. In Wisconsin, Walmart and other big-box retailers used this loophole to try and cut their property assessments by a total of more than an estimated $700 million last year.
And when Walmart doesn’t get its way, it unleashes its team of lawyers on our towns, like it’s done in Plymouth, West Bend, Lake Delton, Franklin and other Wisconsin communities. Since 2014, Walmart has taken our towns to court 12 times over assessment appeals in an attempt to reduce its property tax bill.
Earlier this year, state Sen. Janis Ringhand’s bill, A.B. 386, attempted to close the loophole in Wisconsin and was supported by over 60 bipartisan co-sponsors and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. But in the final days of the session, Assembly Leader Robin Vos and Senate Speaker Scott Fitzgerald blocked Ringhand’s bill and tried to push a “compromise” supported by business interests that, according to the league, was “worse than current law.” Because of Vos and Fitzgerald’s last-minute bait-and-switch, nothing was done to address the dark store tax loophole. Vos and Fitzgerald must not have homeowners in their districts, otherwise why would they place additional tax burdens on them while major corporations like Walmart get away with not paying what they owe?
In addition to Walmart’s corporate welfare — an estimated $6.2 billion in annual federal subsidies and an estimated $205 million in cumulative nationwide state and local tax subsidies the retailer has already received — the Walmart dark store tax loophole creates a tremendous burden on our society. By fleecing local government out of much-needed revenue, our public schools, which heavily rely on property tax revenue, suffer the most. And when schools are underfunded, oftentimes taxes go up or new taxes are instituted, creating more of a burden for homeowners.
Walmart could easily stop appealing property assessments made by local governments and use the $2 billion federal corporate tax break it will receive this year to pay its property taxes.
But none of this has happened and will not happen unless the American people speak out against Walmart’s behavior and actions.
It’s time to close Walmart’s dark store tax loophole and for politicians like Vos and Fitzgerald to place their priorities with America’s homeowners and taxpayers and not companies that use loopholes to get out of paying their fair share.
John Eiden is president of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1473.
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