Considine says Baraboo must join allies in tax fight against large retailers

March 14, 2019
Speaking to the Baraboo Common Council on Tuesday, state Rep. Dave Considine discusses the local impact of the state budget.

Baraboo’s representative in the state Assembly encouraged the city to unite with other municipalities in a tax fight against big-box retailers Tuesday, and said the upcoming two-year state budget may face gridlock.

Rep. Dave Considine addressed the Baraboo Common Council to describe how the state budget may impact communities in the district. He also asked for input.

“I want to know what concerns you, so I can represent you well,” the Baraboo Democrat said.

Council member Tom Kolb asked about the status of legislation designed to close the so-called “dark store” tax loophole. National retailers are challenging their property tax bills across the state, claiming their stores should be valued like vacant warehouses, not active enterprises. Menards has successfully challenged the city’s assessment of the home products chain’s Baraboo store.

Considine said municipalities must join forces and fight retailers’ attorneys with their own.

“We’re going to encourage you to bond together,” Considine said, “so … you at least have some lawyer muscle against them. Now maybe it’s only just a black bear against a grizzly, I don’t know, but it gives you more muscle in the room, and I think that will frustrate some of them a little bit.”

Gov. Tony Evers wants to close the loophole in his proposed state budget, but with Republicans holding majorities in the Senate and Assembly, any measures from the new Democratic governor will face tough sledding.

Considine said it most likely will be up to Republican legislators to push through a bill addressing the loophole. Considine said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, blocked such measures last session.

“They’re going to have to be willing to fight with Speaker Vos,” Considine said. “I’m going to be behind the scenes encouraging them like crazy if it doesn’t get approved in the budget and we have to pass it as a standalone bill.”

Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm, who testified last year in favor of bills that would close the loophole, volunteered to do so again. “Keep me in mind,” he said.

Road funding

Palm asked whether Highway 33, which is slated for reconstruction in 2023, could be redone sooner. Considine said that’s a possibility.

“This is a nice budget for transportation,” he said. “I think there’s a good chance it’ll get moved up some.”

Under Evers’ plan, the state’s 32.9-cent gas tax would rise 8 cents, but its 9 percent minimum markup on fuel would be eliminated. Heavy truck registration fees and new car titling fees would increase. About $320 million in new money would go toward highway repair and expansion.

Considine said Republican constituents told him they were willing to face a gas tax increase of 10 to 15 cents a gallon to repair roads. “I can’t tell you the number of them that told me, ‘Fix the roads. I don’t care what it costs me; fix the roads,’” he said. “They’re saying, ‘We know we’ve got to pay for this.’”

State budget

The “dark store” loophole isn’t the only measure in Evers’ budget that will face scrutiny. Considine said the state may go without a new budget for some time if the Democratic governor becomes mired in gridlock with the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate. Considine said observers predict it’s more likely than not that the state will go two years without a new budget.

“I’m not sure we’ll get a budget,” Considine said.

Republicans are talking about building a budget proposal of their own from scratch, rather than adding to — or subtracting from — Evers’ plan. “I think they’re going to put the governor in a bind where he’s going to have to veto the whole thing or pass the whole thing,” Considine said.

If the budget faces limbo, Democrats may have to reach across the aisle to get certain measures — such as legislation on “dark stores” and agricultural proposals — passed as standalone bills.

“There’s a chance to get some good things in there,” Considine said.