MADISON — State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, is gathering signatures from his fellow public officials in an attempt to urge Gov. Scott Walker to act on the “dark store” tax loophole.
But at the same time, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he thinks the issue should be studied more before rushing into anything.
Wirch said the “dark store” loophole is based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows for regular, operating stores to be taxed at the same rate as an empty store.
“It hits my area of the state very hard at this particular time,” Wirch said, adding that in Pleasant Prairie a home worth $200,000 might see an $800 increase in property taxes. “Clearly this is a growing problem around the state and if we don’t deal with it now, we won’t be able to deal with it until 2019. It’s time to deal with it now.”
Already more than a dozen legislators have signed a letter asking for Walker to call a special session to discuss this issue because the current session is expected to be over in March.
“We’re hoping the governor, No. 1, would use his influence on the Republican members of the Legislature and, No. 2, the governor can call a special session,” Wirch said. “As more tax challenges come into local government, I think this is a problem that’s going to spread all over the state of Wisconsin.”
Legislators can sign their names to the letter until 5 p.m. Monday. After that, Wirch said, they plan to deliver it to Walker.
Wirch is frustrated because legislation that would eliminate “dark stores” will likely not be voted on during this session.
“We can’t have a debate on this issue because it’s not coming up on the floor,” Wirch said. “Business is happy, I guess, that they got to pay less taxes, but the burden falls on property taxpayers … it doesn’t make sense to me to tax a productive store at the rate of an empty store.”
State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, is on board with debating legislation to deal with “dark stores.”
“If true, I’m disappointed that the ‘dark store’ bills won’t be coming for a vote,” Wanggaard said. “It’s common sense that a new store in a bustling location is, and should be, worth more than an abandoned store in a depressed area. It shouldn’t take legislation to fix that, but here we are. I remain hopeful that it can be done yet this spring or early next year.”
More study needed
Vos said he’s skeptical of the legislation.
“I don’t believe we should be raising taxes on anybody,” Vos said. “Whether they own a business, a dark store, a shopping mall, a home … unfortunately, I think what they’re hoping to do is try to have business pay higher taxes and I’m just concerned about that.”
Vos, however, said that there are some abuses that need to be fixed.
“I certainly believe we need to have assessors do a better job ... but I’m not sure that this bill is the right answer for that problem,” Vos said.
As far as the loophole shifting the tax burden to property owners, Vos said that is not true.
“Businesses today pay a higher percentage of the overall property tax burden than they did 10 years ago,” Vos said. “If that’s true, we would have seen the opposite and we’re not. I think that’s an example of rhetoric getting ahead of the reality.”
Vos said he would like to see the issue evaluated in greater depth to find a more appropriate solution.
“I would prefer to take the summer to do a study to try to determine the best way to solve this problem,” Vos said. “It’s going to take time and study to find the proper answer, and I think this is people looking for a political solution to say they did something rather than looking for the right answer.”
“I would prefer to take the summer to do a study to try to determine the best way to solve this problem ... it’s going to take time and study to find the proper answer, and I think this is people looking for a political solution to say they did something rather than looking for the right answer.” Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester
“Business is happy, I guess, that they got to pay less taxes but the burden falls on property taxpayers … it doesn’t make sense to me to tax a productive store at the rate of an empty store.” State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers