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Dark store

A last-ditch bid in the State Assembly to address efforts by big-box retailers to lower their property-tax assessments -- which critics say shifts tax costs to homeowners -- has collapsed, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said early Friday.

A last-ditch bid in the state Assembly to address efforts by large retailers to lower their property-tax assessments, which critics say shifts tax costs to homeowners, has collapsed, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said early Friday.

Vos’ comments came in the waning minutes of what he said was the Assembly’s last session of 2018.

One of the Senate proponents of bills to address the issue, Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, acknowledged later Friday that it appears dead until at least next year.

“It’s unfortunate we could not come together last night with a ‘dark store’ compromise,” Stroebel spokesman Ethan Hollenberger said in a statement. “Sen. Stroebel will work with co-authors, stakeholders and legislative leaders to find a solution for next session. The issue remains a priority of his.”

Vos, R-Rochester, placed blame for the collapse on the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, a chief advocate of two bills relating to tax assessments for large retailers.

One would limit use of the so-called “dark store” theory that has been employed in Wisconsin and other states. Retailers have used it to challenge their tax assessments by contending their property values should be linked to the value of other large retail stores that are vacant, or “dark.”

The other would reverse a 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that found the city of Madison improperly assessed the value of two Walgreens stores. That case since has formed a precedent for assessments of certain leased retail buildings, which local governments contend has artificially depressed their value.

In the meantime, the bills’ supporters argue, other taxpayers, such as homeowners and small-business owners, are left to foot the balance of local tax levies.

The two bills enjoy unusually broad bipartisan support in the Assembly, with more than 40 co-sponsors each.

But their opponents include some of the state’s most politically influential business groups, such as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and retail giants Walmart, Walgreens and CVS.

The league, which represents Wisconsin cities and villages, affirmed in a statement that it killed the latest version of “the so-called compromise” because “it was worse than current law.”

A compromise floated by WMC and Assembly GOP leaders “would have codified the Walgreen’s decision, which is exactly the opposite of what we are seeking,” the league said in its statement.

WMC spokesman Scott Manley called the arguments made by the bills’ proponents “disingenuous.”

“Assessment is supposed to be based on market sales and market rents,” Manley said. “They’re asking the Wisconsin Legislature to give them permission to assess in a way that no other state has allowed.”

The office of the Assembly sponsor of the bills, Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, declined to comment Friday.Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz, meanwhile, said Assembly Republicans approached him about holding a voice vote — not a roll call, in which members’ votes are recorded — on a version of the dark store compromise opposed by the league. Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Democrats declined because that proposal wouldn’t solve the problem.“Not reaching a decision is making a decision,” Hintz said. “Assembly Republicans made a decision to continue to punish residential taxpayers by shifting the tax burden.”

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