Wisconsin Republicans took a beating during the 2018 midterms, losing several key offices to Democratic candidates, and now the state legislature is trying to undermine the will of the people by stripping authority from the incoming governor and attorney general.
Assisting in that effort — or at the very least, keeping silent as Republicans chip away at democracy — is Walgreens, the “friendly neighborhood drugstore”.
Walgreens portrays itself as the friendly neighborhood drugstore. It gives flu shots to children, helps communities after storms, donates to charity — and makes feel-good advertisements trumpeting its various good deeds.
But Walgreens also has a tougher side, one you won’t see in those ads. To protect a tax break, the company has allied itself with Wisconsin’s brutally partisan Republican Party. That party is now in the midst of a power grab, stripping authority from Wisconsin’s governor and attorney general solely because Republicans lost those offices last month. The power grab comes after years of extreme gerrymandering, which lets Republicans dominate the legislature despite Wisconsin being a closely divided state.
Wisconsin’s Republicans really are trying to undo democracy.
As this effort unfolds, Walgreens — along with other companies supporting the state’s Republicans, including Microsoft, Dr Pepper Snapple, J.P. Morgan Chase and Humana — have been remarkably silent.
Why would Walgreens stand by quietly while lawmakers make such a blatant power grab?
Cue the tax break.
In 2008, the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of an aggressive tax strategy by the company, in a case known as Walgreens v. City of Madison. When calculating the property taxes it owed, Walgreens used an artificially low valuation of its stores. It did not pay taxes based on the actual value of those stores, as reflected by their purchase price and rent. Instead, it took into account the value of vacant stores nearby.
The court ruling allowed this “dark-store” practice — by Walgreens and other retailers — costing cities and towns millions upon millions of tax dollars. The resulting budget shortfalls, local officials point out, have caused taxes on families and small businesses to rise more in Wisconsin than in neighboring Minnesota.
The Walgreens loophole is deeply unpopular, based on the results of a nonbinding ballot initiative across Wisconsin. And last year, a bipartisan group of state legislators began a push to change the law. But then, somewhat mysteriously, the effort died. The legislature’s Republican leaders — including Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker, and Scott Fitzgerald, the Senate majority leader — appeared to play a crucial role in the demise of that measure.
Vos, Fitzgerald and the Committee to Elect Republicans each received contributions from Walgreens after the measure tanked, while the company did not donate to any Democrats, as it had in years past, the Times noted.
Asked for comment, Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said the company is “in the process of evaluating” the matter.