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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Wisconsin Communities Should Heed WMC's Dark Store Position

Did you know Wisconsin municipalities held a "Dark Store Day" to push state legislators into passing two bills they believe will close the dark store loophole?

I didn't know until after it was over. Only one tweet appeared under the dark store day hashtag and it was by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in opposition to the city's campaign. That doesn't say much for the Municipal Association's social media digital operation. Actually, it's non-existent.

The WMC tweeted a link to their dark store editorial titled, Local Governments Participate in “Raise Your Taxes Day”

Basically, the WMC wrote that A.) it's just a ploy by local governments and aggressive assessors to raise taxes, B.) the WMC oppose the state's uniformity clause because they believe keeping assessment procedures and formulas including tax rates uniform mean higher costs to Wisconsinites. They said that right here...

WMC Excerpt:
“Don’t let them fool you. This is about raising taxes on all businesses, not just ‘big box’ stores,” Manley added. “Thanks to our state’s uniformity clause, these bills could raise taxes for the small manufacturer in your town or your favorite spot for Friday fish fry. Unfortunately, that means higher costs for all Wisconsinites.”

You read that right. The WMC is blaming the state's constitutional uniformity clause for uniform taxes. Uniform taxes that they believe "unfortunately" lead to higher costs on their membership. When for the most part, legislators have been ignoring the clause for years to pass specialized tax cuts, portability options and exemptions for their donor-class business partners.

The theory is if nobody challenges uniformity clause abuses in the courts's constitutional, and if somebody does challenge it, they can't challenge its constitutionality unless they can prove personal harm. That almost guarantees abuse.

Because I believe dark store litigation and TIF District abuse are intrinsically linked together by the state's abuse of the uniformity clause, the WMC's dark store position paper is a shot across the bow of WILL's challenge to a TIF District in Eau Claire. The WMC is advising the State Supreme Court through media that the court should not uphold or apply the state's uniformity clause when making their TIF District decision in February. I also think state republicans are waiting on SCOWI language and direction from the February TIF ruling before taking up dark store legislation.

But, what the WMC is also saying is; when a city like Janesville must refund $500K to several big box stores and other businesses and then lower future assessments by a third or more, NOBODY is twisting Janesville's arm to shift the tax burden onto homeowners and small businesses. That's absolutely true. In effect, the WMC suggests that cities should cut their budgets by a corresponding amount, and start closing roads, shuttering schools and laying off administration, police and fire - to meet budget balance. That's what they're saying.

Because not to make those cuts is the reason why the WMC is accusing city officials for using the dark store issue as an excuse to pile on and raise taxes ...and the WMC is right, at least half way.

Here's why.

If I was mayor of Janesville, I would hold a press conference and name the businesses including the amounts each have sued for that are forcing city budget cuts. I would also explain that as a mayor who takes his fiduciary responsibility seriously, I cannot in good conscience force others (homeowners and small business) to pay more than their fair share when others refuse to pay theirs.

So as mayor I would recommend two things. The first would be a list of city services that will be cut along with the personnel layoffs to meet the dark store budget cuts. Second, I would suggest Janesville residents take up a petition for a referendum asking to raise property taxes an amount equal to the dark store refunds and make them as permanent as the dark store assessments remain in effect. IF they want those jobs and services restored.

Sure, the WMC would probably accuse me of grandstanding the dark store issue anyways, but that is what the state's largest business association is recommending in their dark store day editorial.

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