Legislation best way to handle ‘big box’ assessments

State Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, and state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, are behind legislation intended to change the way so-called “big box stores” -like Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse- have their true cash value assessed for taxes.

We think it is a good idea that the issue is being addressed in the state Legislature, which should provide a long-term solution to the issue, rather than numerous cases brought before the Michigan Tax Tribunal and the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The issue became prominent locally earlier this year when Marquette and Breitung townships joined together in appealing Michigan Tax Tribunal rulings to the Michigan Court of Appeals, taking the lead on the issue with the court statewide.

Tribunal decisions in favor of the retail giants have resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue for local taxing units including local governments and schools.

Kivela introduced House Bill 4977 Thursday, which was crafted with the help of Marquette and Breitung townships.

“The reduction in property tax revenue is causing major economic problems for local governments and stripping precious dollars away from our schools,” Kivela said in a news release. “With the current state of education funding, it is more important than ever to make sure corporations are paying their fair share of property taxes, and our schools are getting the revenue they need to stay open. The bill I am working on would tighten up the law and make sure corporations are unable to exploit it at the expense of local residents.”

Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard said Kivela’s bill clarifies what the “highest and best use” of the big retail outlets is for taxing purposes.

Casperson is expected to introduce a bill identical to Kivela’s in the state Senate in the next few days.

“I am very concerned how these big retailers are seemingly exploiting the law for their own gain at the expense of local stakeholders. Assessing commercial property in the manner that the retailers are arguing is not only unreasonable, it is unfair to our local communities – especially to the local governments and the schools,” Casperson said in a news release. “This truly is a troubling practice that has far-reaching and long-lasting consequences, not just to communities in the UP, but throughout the state. Therefore, I look forward to working with Rep. Kivela to use some good, old-fashioned, U.P. common sense to bring about a legislative solution that rectifies this practice and ensures that our communities are protected from such actions going forward.”

We join the ranks of those who are praising Kivela and Casperson for their bipartisan efforts to address this issue, which is critically important to communities in the Upper Peninsula and across the state. We also like the idea of the U.P. -and two of its legislators- championing this cause on behalf of numerous Michigan townships, governmental units and schools both in the Legislature and the appellate court.

What remains to be seen now is how all of this will turn out as the bills move forward along with the townships’ court case.

We’ll be watching.