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Everybody loves an underdog, and that’s especially true when a storyline pits the “little guy” versus a large corporation.

Scott Manley WMC mug


This is the narrative local governments have spun in the so-called “dark stores” debate. They’ve positioned the issue as greedy corporations attempting to shift their tax burden to homeowners. This makes for an interesting story, but it’s simply not true.

In reality, there are two indisputable facts that have been left out of the debate on this issue. First, the property tax burden has actually shifted from homeowners to businesses over the last decade – the exact opposite of what your local politicians have likely told you.

Second, the dark store legislation is an effort to legalize tax hikes on businesses that assessors have been attempting to impose, illegally, for more than a decade.

This debate isn’t about “closing a loophole” or forcing someone to “pay their fair share.” It’s about local governments wanting to tax to the max and villainize the businesses that provide jobs in their communities.

Let’s look at the data from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. From 2008 to 2017, the share of residential property taxes statewide has actually decreased 2.4 percent. On the contrary, the share of property taxes paid by businesses has increased by more than 10 percent during the same time period.

In other words, if property tax collections were a pie, the slice from homeowners has gotten smaller, while the slice from businesses has increased. Any politician who tells you businesses are shifting their burden to homeowners is simply wrong.

Why are businesses paying more? It’s due in part because some assessors have unlawfully raised the property assessment of businesses by inappropriately adding the value of certain lease payments to the value of the land and building. The Supreme Court declared this practice illegal in 2008, but that hasn’t stopped assessors from continuing their efforts to impose this illegal tax hike on businesses.

Some politicians have criticized businesses for challenging these unlawful assessments — as if it’s their patriotic duty to be overtaxed.

Keep in mind that cities, towns and villages have a self-interest in assessing property higher because it means they can collect more taxes. That’s why it’s so important that our laws allow property owners to challenge their assessment with an unbiased third-party review to ensure fairness and adherence to the law.

When these disputes go to court, businesses consistently win because the higher assessment was not lawfully imposed. The courts then force the local government to give back the amount of the tax that never should have been collected in the first place.

It’s frustrating that local officials complain about having to give back money they illegally took from property owners. After being forced to return the money they had no authority to take in the first place, local governments then have the gall to complain that businesses aren’t paying their fair share.

Here’s some advice to local officials: if you don’t like paying back money that you took illegally, and if you don’t like paying legal fees when taxpayers take you to court to get their money back, just follow the law.

Instead of following the law, local officials are looking to change it.

They’re vigorously lobbying for a new law that will allow them to raise taxes in a manner the courts have consistently told them they cannot do. They’re asking the Legislature to give them taxing authority that no other state in the country has allowed.

This municipal “tax to the max” scheme is so bad, even big-taxing Gov. Jim Doyle had the good sense to veto the idea in 2009.

There are many other concerns with these bills, including unconstitutionality, which I cannot mention in the limited space afforded by this column. I will, however, give an example.

Through no fault of their own, and with no changes to their land or building, Badger Meter’s facility in Mount Pleasant would see a $68,000 per year increase in their property taxes if the dark store bills became law.

Raising taxes on homegrown companies like Badger Meter, who are actively bringing workers back to our state, is not the way to make Wisconsin prosperous. It also happens to be incredibly unfair.

WMC negotiated a compromise prohibiting a vacant property that is dilapidated or distressed from being used as a comparable for assessment purposes. Lobbyists for local governments could have taken that compromise and declared a legislative victory. They rejected that compromise because that’s not what this issue is really about.

Instead, they’re holding out for the oppressive tax-hiking authority that no other state is willing to authorize. Gov. Doyle rejected this idea before, and the Legislature should reject it again.

Scott Manley is senior vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the combined state chamber of commerce and state manufacturers’ association. The organization advocates on behalf of its 3,800 members, who represent all business sectors, sizes and regions of the state. WMC is the largest business association in Wisconsin.


(4) comments


I get all of my information on taxes and finances from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. They show great concern for the people of Wisconsin. They always want to pay their fair share. (Look up the definition of sarcasm.)


Businesses don’t pay taxes, that is a cost passed onto the consumer, so if the consumer uses more he pays more. The recent tax rollback on companies prove this by the way businesses are using the “savings” to buy back their stock or enrich the executive group, very few have reinvested in their factories, raised wages or heaven forbid lowered prices.


Good Lord! The business and rich man tax giveaway by the Trump administration simply is not enough for the Wisconsin Manufacturers. They will, as is typical, continue to chip away elsewhere, too. Watch the Trump administration start cutting critical social welfare programs on the federal end, and we will be forced to deal with these tragedies on a state and local level, which manufacturers will turn their back on, threatening to pull out of the state, leaving middle and working class taxpayers holding the bag once again.


I wonder about the facts this guy is presenting. He writes,"the property tax burden has actually shifted from homeowners to businesses over the last decade...." Wonder where he got that info from, he doesn't say. It is a known fact that farmers property taxes are assessed differently than they used to be, and are not what some would say, paying their fair share. With all the school referendums needed because of act10 law, home owners are shouldering a larger burden of the property taxes. Perhaps some farmers out there can comment on how their property taxes are assessed, and how they have changed over the years.

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