MAC: ‘Dark store’ bills still stalled

IRON MOUNTAIN — Legislation to address Michigan’s controversial “dark store” tax loophole continues to face long odds, largely due to opposition from the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Finance, Dickinson County commissioners were told Monday.

Stephan Currie, executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties, updated the county board Monday on a number of state issues, including the Senate’s refusal to take up proposed reforms of the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

The “dark store” loophole has allowed retailers to appeal their property tax assessments and have their stores assessed at rates comparable to closed or vacant stores. A House-passed bill that would require the tribunal to apply “generally accepted appraisal principles” to all commercial real estate property has never been granted a committee hearing by Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township.

“These are the politics we deal with in Lansing, unfortunately,” Currie said.

Supporters of that bill, including MAC, say it is aimed at eliminating a tax loophole that has left communities throughout Michigan with an unbalanced property tax system that unfairly burdens small businesses and homeowners.

Meanwhile, a new Senate bill introduced by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, would prohibit the tribunal from settling assessment disputes by using comparable properties that have a substantially lower value due to self-imposed deed restrictions. That bill may might get a hearing, Currie said, but he put its chances at “less than 50 percent.”

Also, an attempt by Casperson to require the state to reimburse local units of government for property tax revenues lost to disabled veterans exemptions has been shelved, Currie said.

Among MAC’s recent legislative wins, he said, was progress towards an improved court funding model. In 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled a lack of statutory authority invalidated the use of fees routinely imposed on convicted defendants. Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a bill extending the fee authority to October 2020 while a commission analyzes court funding models and makes a recommendation to the Legislature for action.