The big money boys had another good week in the state Capitol.
It's amazing how this cabal in control of state government routinely does the bidding of the special interests, no matter the costs to the public interest.
The prime example this week was the Assembly's refusal to pull from committee and act upon a bill that would address a problem that could cost tens of thousands of individual property taxpayers hundreds of dollars for years to come.
While a majority of legislators have professed support for the bill that would close the so-called "dark store loophole," when the time came to make sure the bill would pass this legislative session, all but one Republican voted against bringing it to the floor.
It's a hugely important bill that if not passed will force property taxpayers in communities with big box stores to make up for the taxes those stores will no longer have to pay.
Monona Ald. Andrew Kitslaar explained the dilemma facing municipalities in a column he wrote for The Capital Times last summer. In it, he explained how big box stores like Menards, Target and Walmart — all big donors to GOP politicians — are successfully arguing in court that their property should be assessed as a vacant or abandoned building of the same size and not include the value of the business on the property.
He used the the Monona Walmart Supercenter as an example. If it successfully argued that the current $28.5 million assessment is too high and it should be assessed as a vacant building, its value would be reduced to $9.5 million. That would drop its taxes by $433,000, costing the city $111,000 in revenue and the school district $245,000. Guess who would make it up? The homeowners and small businesses that pay property taxes in Monona.
In condemning Republican legislators for refusing to act this week, Democratic minority leader Gordon Hintz noted that a CVS store in Appleton got its assessment reduced from $4.4 million to $1.8 million. Local taxpayers, he pointed out, are now on the hook for a $350,000 refund to the pharmaceutical giant.
The bill that didn't make it to a vote would make it clear that assessments are to include the operating business on the property itself and not pretend that it's a piece of vacant property.
But those individual homeowners and small businesses struggling to keep their heads above water don't have the clout to grease legislators' palms with nice contributions or spend a bundle on high-powered lobbyists to schmooze the lawmakers who supposed represent them.
It's not hard to figure out why folks become cynics about their government.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society Press website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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