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May 20, 2019

GOP blocks move on ‘dark stores’

SOMERS — A decision to table legislation on the “dark stores” loophole Wednesday in Madison was not received kindly by some in the state capital or locally.

The tax loophole allows big-box retailers to base their tax assessments on abandoned or shuttered stores, saving them millions of dollars in tax breaks and shifting the burden to local homeowners and small-business owners. Senate Bill 130 is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 20 state senators.

When the bill was brought to the Senate floor, the GOP-controlled Assembly refused to discuss or vote on it.

“I’m deeply disappointed that my Republican colleagues, once again, sided with big-box stores and against residential property taxpayers,” Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, said. “It’s shameful that early this week they stripped these taxpayer protections from the budget and now voted against taking up stand-alone legislation.”

Big-box retailers have sued communities to recoup tax money paid based on higher assessments.

Walmart attempted to reduce its Somers property assessment for its store and Sam’s Club by about $7 million, according to Somers Village President George Stoner.

“This dark store thing is totally destroying communities,” Stoner said. “We’re all very, very upset with the leading Republicans, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

“I’ve met with (Assembly Speaker Robin Vos), and it falls on deaf ears. I’m very upset with (state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes). She has all kinds of excuses, but they’re all flawed when it comes to helping the community.

“This is the main part of legislation we need, and we can’t get them to move on this.”

In November, voters in all 23 counties, cities and villages with a “dark stores” advisory referendum overwhelming called for policymakers to close the loophole.

The referendum received 79 percent of the vote in Kenosha County.

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