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Menards store, State Journal photo

State lawmakers failed to pass legislation to close the so-called "dark store loophole" and increase how much the mega-retailers, including Eau Claire-based Menards, pay local communities in property taxes.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) has been trying to defend the "dark store" property tax loophole in Wisconsin that has allowed big box stores to shift millions of dollars in property taxes onto local homeowners.

WMC, the state’s corporate lobby, paints the big box stores as victims of greedy local governments and homeowners who are villainizing corporations by asking them to pay their fair share in property taxes. The dark store issue really is about higher taxes — for homeowners.

A bipartisan coalition of 74 legislators have sponsored legislation to close the dark store loophole. In the hyperpartisan atmosphere at the Capitol, it is extremely rare to see legislators from all political stripes band together to fix what we all see as a major problem.

WMC claims to have negotiated a compromise on dark stores, but fails to mention that they were only negotiating with the legislators who are trying to kill the legislation. There was never a “negotiated compromise” and it is disingenuous for WMC to say that there was any discussion with those of us who are trying to close this loophole. There is no such thing as negotiating a compromise with yourself.

I have tried to bring the dark store legislation to the Senate floor for a vote, twice. The Republican majority quickly moved to adjourn the first time I tried to get a vote. On the final day of the legislative session, I brought the dark store legislation forward as an amendment to another bill. Instead of taking a vote, Republicans used procedural gymnastics to keep the legislation bottled up. Eight Republican Senate sponsors of the dark store legislation buckled to the corporate lobby and voted against their own legislation, ensuring that the corporate rip-off of Wisconsin homeowners will continue.

It is unfortunate that the Senate Republicans would rather raise property taxes for thousands of homeowners throughout the state than stand up to the influential corporate lobby at WMC.

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Make no mistake, by shifting the property tax burden the Big Box chains are sticking it to local homeowners. For many of us, it seems that the only people who believe the dark store tax scheme is fair are the lawyers who developed the scheme, the lobbyists defending the scheme and the big box corporations that employ them.

The dark store legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Revenue, Financial Institutions and Rural Affairs. Regrettably, my Republican colleagues squandered an opportunity to provide homeowners property tax relief in favor of WMC’s corporate agenda and campaign cash.

Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, is a member of the Wisconsin Senate.

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