Part I: A look inside a system stacked against big-box retailers

| Feb 12, 2021 | Commercial Property Tax Appeals

The American public has a type of bargain with government: We pay taxes and observe the laws that help bring order to society in exchange for government services and protection and a legal system based on fairness in applying the law and equality under the law.

For as long as those legal principles are honored, America works as it was intended to work under common-sense rules of due process. But when government plays favorites – favoring one type of person or one type of business over another – cracks appear in the foundation supporting due process principles.

Government’s impartiality and fairness become suspect and the public’s faith and trust in government erodes. Instead of due process, taxpayers receive “all the process we declare to be due,” a results-oriented outcome which abandons factual support in favor of baseless legal conclusion and highly distorted “approaches” to the determination of “market” (a/k/a what buyers do) value. Declaring something to be true it does not make it so as any grandmother can tell you.

Unfavorable, unequal

In this blog post, we will look at an example of government singling out a particular type of business for unfavorable and unequal treatment under the law. This ongoing saga involves Minnesota’s tax court, Anoka County assistant attorneys, and big-box retailers.

In 2019, two Anoka County assistant attorneys—duty bound by law to uniformly enforce Minnesota’s property valuation statutes—instead sought to use them to discriminate against one of Minnesota’s largest property taxpayers. Specifically, these two public officers prepared and presented some continuing legal education (CLE) materials. (In Minnesota, lawyers must continue their legal educations over their entire careers.)

The Anoka CLE was focused on one type of business, however, it discussed strategies used by county attorneys to combat property tax appeals brought by big-box retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Menards.

The presentation, called “Litigation of a Big Box Property Tax Appeal,” was viewed by an online group of about 80 “government officials,” including other county attorneys, retired county attorneys, employees in county attorney offices, and most disturbingly, some county assessors; government officials who are supposed to be barred from participating in such partisan plots by virtue of their station as “quasi-judicial officers.”

We will have more about the Anoka case in an upcoming blog post. Please check back.