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Photo: Lowe's store.
Featured Article filed under Independent Business, The Public Good | Written by Olivia LaVecchia | 15 Comments | Updated on Jun 16, 2015

For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/dark-store-tax-tactic-makes-big-box-stores-terrible-deal-for-cities/

Big-box retailers’ new tactic to slash their taxes is the latest example of why cities are better off saying no to the boxes and cultivating Main Streets instead.

 

In February, the library in Marquette, Mich., announced that it was cutting its hours.

It wasn’t that its Sunday programming was any less popular, or that it had gotten the short end of the stick in next year’s budget planning. Instead, thanks to a new method that big-box stores are using to game the tax system, Marquette Township owed a $755,828.71 tax refund to the home improvement chain Lowe’s. Essential services like the library, the school district, and the fire department were on the hook to pay for it.

The Peter White Public Library would now be closed on Sundays.

Marquette has been hit hard by a tactic that the country’s biggest retailers are using to slash their property taxes. Known as the “dark store” method, it exemplifies the systematic way that these chains extract money from local governments. It’s also the latest example of the way that, even as local governments across the country continue to bend over backwards to attract and accommodate big-box development, these stores are consistently a terrible deal for the towns and cities where they locate.

Marquette is one of the countless places that has bought into big-box economic development. Over the years, the township in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan spent millions extending water mains, law enforcement, and other infrastructure and services to its big-box commercial corridor along U.S. 41. When the Lowe’s opened there in 2008, local officials including the mayor turned out for a “board-cutting” ceremony—the home improvement center version of a ribbon-cutting.

Then, less than two years later, Lowe’s flipped the script. The mega-retailer, which reports annual net sales of about $50 billion, went to tax court to appeal its property tax assessment. Marquette had pegged the taxable value of the store, which had just been built for $10 million, at $5.2 million. In front of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, an administrative court whose members are appointed by the state governor, Lowe’s won assessments that were, instead, $2.4 million in 2010, $2 million in 2011, and $1.5 million in 2012.

“We honestly thought there had been a mistake,” says Dulcee Atherton, the assessor for Marquette Township. “We had the building permits that said it was worth $10 million. We couldn’t believe the audacity, really.”

What was worse was the methodology that Lowe’s, and the tax tribunal, had used to arrive at the lower figures. Continue reading

ShippingContainrerTerminal_TristanTaussac
Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Jun 3, 2015

Walmart Spews a Huge Amount of Climate Pollution with Its Shipping, but Doesn’t Report Any of It

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-shipping-climate-pollution/

No company moves as much stuff across the world’s oceans as Walmart does, and the climate consequences are immense. Ferrying all those cheap TVs, T-shirts, toasters, and toys from Asian factories to ports in the U.S. and elsewhere releases huge amounts of greenhouse pollutants into the atmosphere, including both carbon dioxide (CO2) and black carbon. We’ve compiled a few key data points on shipping’s climate impact and Walmart’s dominance in the movement of goods across the world’s oceans. Continue reading

Photo: Community Bank Borrowers
Featured Article filed under Banking, Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on May 5, 2015

One in Four Local Banks Has Vanished since 2008. Here’s What’s Causing the Decline and Why We Should Treat It as a National Crisis.

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/vanishing-community-banks-national-crisis/

The precipitous decline in the number of community banks in recent years is a national crisis, and there’s a fierce debate underway right now about what’s to blame. Continue reading

Illustration: Seesaw
Featured Article, ILSR Press Room filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on May 8, 2015

How Washington Punishes Small Business

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/how-washington-punishes-small-business/

Small business looms large in American political rhetoric. From the campaign trail to the floor of the U.S. House and Senate, members of Congress love to evoke the diner and dry cleaner, the neighborhood grocer and local hardware store. Ensuring the well-being of Main Street, we might easily assume, is one of their central policy aims. The legislative track record tells another story. It is one in which the interests of big corporations are dominant, and many laws and regulations seem designed to bend the marketplace in their favor and put small, independent businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Continue reading

amazon-warehouse
Featured Article, ILSR Press Room filed under Independent Business | Written by Olivia LaVecchia | No Comments | Updated on Apr 30, 2015

Public Officials Must Say No to Amazon’s Request for Tax Breaks

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/public-officials-must-say-no-to-amazons-request-for-tax-breaks/

The news that Amazon wants to expand its footprint in Minnesota, but only if it wins significant public subsidies, should put both taxpayers and public officials on high alert. Continue reading