Big-box stores lose as Michigan Supreme Court drops tax case
ESCANABA — The Michigan Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a big-box retailer in a tax dispute in the Upper Peninsula — a brief but significant order that will have consequences for local governments around the state.
Big-box stores have been reducing their tax bills for years by convincing the Michigan Tax Tribunal that their stores are so large and unique that they should be assessed at much less than the cost of construction. The loss of revenue has led to budget cuts in many communities.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last week by lawyers for Menards and the city of Escanaba. But in a two-sentence order, it declined to take the case, which means a 2016 appeals court decision in favor of Escanaba will stand.
The case now will return to the Tax Tribunal for more work. The appeals court rejected Menards' valuation approach and ordered the Tax Tribunal to allow the parties to present more evidence and come up with a property value.
Groups representing local governments predict they'll now fare better at the Tax Tribunal.
"No longer can big-box stores obtain unfair and substantial tax reductions based upon unrealistically low artificial values, while our other taxpayers contribute based upon the value of their properties," said Stephanie Simon Morita, an attorney who wrote a brief on behalf of the Michigan Municipal League.
Local tax revenue has been reduced by at least $100 million statewide since 2013 because of big-box appeals, according to the Michigan Association of Counties.
Menards had argued that the appeals court exceeded its authority during its review of Tax Tribunal decisions.
In the state Capitol, meanwhile, legislation has been introduced to tilt the scale to local governments in commercial property valuations.