Evers budget: closing “darkstore loophole,” middle-income tax cut & hire more prison guards

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MADISON (WKOW) — Governor Tony Evers said he would include a proposal in his first state budget to close the so-called “darkstore loophole” which allows big box retailers to save millions of dollars in property taxes.

The term “darkstore loophole” refers to how big companies can save money by assessing the value of their stores as if they were empty. Retailers argue their property tax assessments should be the value of a similar vacant store, but local governments said that’s not fair.

Evers announced he plans to include in his budget a proposal to require big box companies to determine the value of their stores based on the entire operational store. This would result in higher property assessments.

Last year, a bipartisan bill to close the loop hole didn’t pass, partly due to of opposition from the Chamber of Commerce.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he is open to addressing the issue again but would rather have the governor look at their bipartisan package from last year first.

“If Governor Evers would just look at the work that’s already been done then perhaps rather than reinventing the wheel, he can look at the bipartisan work that’s been done and say mission accomplished,” said Vos.

Prior to Vos’ comments, Evers said the current system is unfair and shifts the property tax burden onto other businesses and homeowners in those communities.

“It should be fair for all and in order to that we have close the loophole,” said Evers.

In November, more than a dozen referendums asked voters if they would approve closing the loophole.

Middle Income Tax Cut

The governor and Democratic lawmakers revealed a new income tax plan the same day Republicans pushed their own proposal to cut taxes.

Both Republicans and Democrats want to cut taxes for the middle class but can’t agree on how to do it. Republican’s want to use the budget surplus to pay for their annual tax cut, something Governor Evers said in the past he opposes. Another version of the plan, unveiled Tuesday by Democrats, also relies on that surplus but just not as much as the GOP bill.

Evers campaigned to cut taxes by rolling back the agriculture and manufacturer tax credit program. The democratic plan would still scale back credits for manufacturers but continue to offer them for farmers.

Both sides of the aisle are still advocating their plan is better than the other.

“I think he has one flawed belief that that the only way you can reduce taxes on some, is to raise taxes on others,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. “That is something we will never accept.”

Evers said his plan is “far more superior.”

“I don’t think I could possibly sign a tax cut of that type where the money going forward is not there,” Evers said.

Democrats plan would also expand the earned income tax credit which helps poor people with tax breaks or cash payments.

Both sides will have to work together to pass any tax cut plan now that Evers has the authority to veto any legislation that reaches his desk.

LINCOLN HILLS:

Governor Evers also said he plans to include additional funding to hire more guards at the troubled youth prison Lincoln Hills. Last week, he announced he would like to delay closing the prison for at least a year while the state continues to find ways to design smaller facilities across the state. Lawmakers voted last year to close the prison by 2021. Now, Evers would like to move it back to 2023.

Emilee Fannon

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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