Finding the Money for Schools

Mike Ivey in today’s Cap Times on Wal-mart’s Wisconsin operations:

The next time you make the not-so-scenic drive on U.S. 151 past the giant new Wal-Mart warehouse near Beaver Dam, keep this in mind: Wisconsin’s largest employer draws more in corporate welfare than it pays in state taxes.

But according to a report from the Milwaukee-based Institute for Wisconsin’s Future that somehow fell through the cracks on Tax Day, Wal-Mart has used a variety of completely legal tax avoidance schemes to cut millions from its state tax bill.

Using public records, the group determined that Wal-Mart pocketed $852 million in net profits in Wisconsin off value-hungry consumers between 2000 and 2003.

Over that same period, Wal-Mart paid only $3 million in corporate income tax here. That’s a tax rate of 0.35 percent, a fraction of the 7.9 percent rate corporations doing business in our fair state are supposed to pay.

Pardon my West High math, but if Wal-Mart paid the going tax rate here it would have owed closer to $67 million.

At the same time, Wal-Mart has been feeding at the public trough like nobody else in state history. The Arkansas-based retailer has benefited from more than $20 million in public economic benefits in Wisconsin, according to one national study. Good Jobs First reported in 2004 that Wal-Mart stores and distribution centers in Baraboo, Beaver Dam, Menomonie, Milwaukee and Tomah received at least $21.75 million in local tax subsidies, the report says.

And in a related story:

The death of Helen Walton, a major Wal-Mart stockholder and widow of its founder, may well trigger one of history’s biggest charitable donations, with a potentially dramatic impact on U.S. public education reform.

Helen Walton’s stake in Wal-Mart is worth about $16.4 billion, which ranked her No. 29 on the most recent Forbes list of the world’s richest. She had long planned to shift her Wal-Mart stock to the Walton Family Foundation upon her death, the family has said. That foundation is overseen by her children and advisers. It has become a major backer of public education reform, including charter schools and private-school vouchers. A donation that big would significantly expand the foundation’s reach.

Charters and vouchers. $16,400,000,000. It makes the mind reel. This isn’t money for “public education reform,” it is money for public education destruction. It is bad enough to avoid paying a fair share and to exploit corporate welfare, but to turn around and then use those ill gotten gains to destroy our public schools is unconscionable. Better if she had left all to her cat.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under AMPS, Local News, National News, School Finance

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