Dark Store Battles Continue, U.P. Legislators Oppose Governor’s Tax Tribunal Appointment, and the Last U.P. Voice on the Supreme Court

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Rural Whispers, Noise & Rumors is a weekly column that gives you the inside scoop on the rural happenings in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Dark Stores Tax Battles Continue. Governor Makes Tax Tribunal Appointment and UP Elected State Legislators Announce Opposition to the Appointment

Victoria Enyart is a member of the Michigan Tax Tribunal. She has been a leading voice there, opposing the efforts to get rid of the Dark Store Tax loophole.

This loophole allows big box stores like Meijer and Walmart to get large reductions in their tax bills and strips local governments of much-needed revenue to provide services to local citizens and local taxpayers.

Enyart was originally appointed in 2008 and Governor Whitmer decided recently to reappoint her to the Tax Tribunal.

Local UP communities have been regularly hit with Dark Store loophole applications in Marquette, Escanaba, Houghton and Sault Saint Marie.

These loopholes cost the local communities hundreds of thousands of dollars. Opponents of the Dark Store loophole say that the loss of local revenue impacts local schools, libraries and other services in our townships, cities and counties in the UP.

The “dark store method” is used to dramatically lower assessments of these business properties. UP local government leaders all cite the revenue losses in their communities due to the use of this “dark store method.” 

House Bill 4025 has been introduced in the Michigan legislature. UP State Representative Sara Cambensy is a co-sponsor. This bill would eliminate the dark store tax loophole that costs local UP communities huge amounts of tax revenue for local services to local taxpayers.

In a statement, Rep. Cambensy said, “The Tax Tribunal is an extremely important entity as they make property tax policy for the state based on their decisions as appointed members.” Cambensy is opposing the reappointment of Enyart to the Tax Tribunal.

The UP’s State Senator Ed McBroom has joined Rep. Cambensy in fighting this reappointment. 

He recently stated, “The Tax Tribunal has accepted faulty reasoning for the property tax of big businesses across Michigan, and not only does it result in an unfair advantage of not paying their fair share, the revenue reduction puts undue stress on government trying to supply services like fire protection to their residents. The devaluing method used by big box retailers, referred to as the dark store loophole, seeks to lower the amount the retailers pay in property taxes.”

The Michigan Tax Tribunal “is an administrative court that hears tax appeals for Michigan taxes,” according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

The Tax Tribunal members are all appointed by the Governor for set terms.

Michigan Supreme Court and Michigan Rural Citizens

The non-partisan Michigan Supreme Court justices are elected by the people of Michigan. They are, however, nominated at partisan political conventions of the Democratic and Republican Parties every two years. They can also collect signatures to get self nominated as an independent candidate. 

Both parties nominate two candidates each to compete for the two open seats in the November 3, 2020 election. Interestingly in this era of Black Lives Matter and diversity awareness, both political parties nominated white men and women.

The winners of the two seats will be joining an all-white Supreme Court. All four candidates are from downstate urban and suburban metropolitan areas. The two winners will join a court with all the justices hailing from urban and suburban downstate metropolitan areas.

There is no justice on the court from a rural area in Michigan–neither downstate nor in the Upper Peninsula. No rural voices or ears on the court. 

The last time Michigan had a member of the Supreme Court from the Upper Peninsula was in 1957–Justice John Volker from Ishpeming, who resigned in 1959 because he wanted to spend more time on his successful books and fishing.

The most successful book, Anatomy of a Murder was being made into a movie–Anatomy of a Murder (published in 1958) and was being filmed in his beloved Upper Peninsula in 1959. 

Volker was the last Upper Peninsula voice on the Supreme Court. So it’s been about 60 years since there was a UP voice on the court.

We recently wrote about another statewide board that had no rural voices on it–The State Board of Education. The Michigan Supreme Court joins other statewide government bodies devoid of rural voices.

Each of these government bodies greatly impact all citizens of Michigan, as well as the citizens of the Upper Peninsula, and roughly 21% of Michigan citizens live in Michigan rural communities. More to come.

Quotes (That make you go hmm)

“I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; […] Because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there.” – Testament of a Fisherman by John D. Voelker (last Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, from the UP, and author of Anatomy of a Murder and many others).

Book Recommendations

Do you have one to suggest to us and our readers? Please send us the title, author name and publication date. Send them to david@ruralinsights.org.

None of the book suggestions we publish are endorsements of the book or the author, just suggestions for you to consider.

Recently-suggested books by readers:

“The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law that Kept two Generations of Jews, Italians and Other European Immigrants Out of America.” Daniel Okrent. 2019.

What’s on Your Mind?

Tell us what you would like to see us research and write about in Rural Insights.

Are there issues or ideas that you think are important to the Upper Peninsula that we should explore? We can’t guarantee that we will research every issue or idea that you send us, but we will take a hard look and see what we can find out.

Are there enough data and facts for us to publish, etc. Let us know what you are thinking about. Send your ideas, issues and thoughts to david@ruralinsights.org.

We’d love your feedback! Please email your thoughts and suggestions to david@ruralinsights.org.

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David Haynes

Professor David Haynes is a tenured Professor of Public Administration and teaches in the MPA graduate program at Northern Michigan University, where he previously served as President. David has been involved in the public administration and political science field for over 45 years.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Sarah Smith on August 31, 2020 at 9:21 am

    To fully understand the “Dark Store” issue, it would be important to tell your readers exactly what it is. Basically, big box retailers want the assessed taxable value of their store for property taxes to be based on the sale value of a similar, but unoccupied store. The rationale is that the big box retailers require custom-build retail space that is not valuable for re-use. There is some evidence to support this claim in buildings that are torn down rather than being repurposed, though that is not always the case. I think it is also fair to point out that these big box stores also support the community by providing jobs, paying payroll taxes, sales tax, and income tax. One could look at the Dark Store legislation as a business incentive. I am just saying that there are two sides to this issue and it would be fair to point that out to your readers.

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