Should small businesses and homeowners in Robert, Louisiana have to pay taxes to support the largest retailer in the world? In Louisiana, the punishment for small towns that have no zoning is “grant” money given to Wal-Mart. It seems that Wal-Mart, which feeds its superstores from giant distribution centers, is not able to financially afford to build these distribution centers on its own, and needs help from state taxpayers to get the network up and running. We reported the heavy taxpayers’ subsidy of a new distribution center in Johnstown, NY (see newsflash below), now here’s another example of corporate welfare, Wal-Mart style. According to The Advocate news bureau in Baton Rouge, LA, the state legislature’s Joint Committee on the Budget approved a $500,000 state grant to help pay for water, sewer and roads into a Wal-Mart distribution center in the small town of Robert. Wal-Mart Stores East, switched its plans from the town of Hammond to Robert, because the former site was along the flight path of a nearby airport, and Wal-Mart was worried a plane might hit their distribution center. So Robert became the lucky winner. Although citizens in Robert pleaded with lawmakers not to flood tranquil Tangipahoa Parish with 400 18 wheeler trucks every day, state lawmakers distributed the “grant” to Wal-Mart anyway. But that was just the tip of the welfare iceberg for Wal-Mart. The estimated cost of the distribution center is $34.5 million, which includes a generous “donation” from Louisiana taxpayers of $4 million to the parish government to buy the land. That’s right: Wal-Mart will not even own the land this large facility will sit on. In fact, Wal-Mart usually does not own the buildings it occupies, but is often just a tenant. In this case, at least $4.5 million in state funding is making it possible for Wal-Mart to build a distribution center that will supply its superstores with the goods needed to put its smaller “competitors” out of business, resulting in a loss of tax collections from dead businesses. When people tell you about the “free market”, they must be referring to the “free money” that Wal-Mart gladly takes, while its corporate treasury swells.
How is it possible for state officials to give over millions of tax dollars to a corporation that had $167,000,000,000 in revenues last year? Wal-Mart had a net income this past year of $5.6 billion. You would think that public officials would not resort to “grants” and subsidies to buy land and put infrastructure into these projects — especially when they produce such dubious economic results to the local economy. The small merchant, who moved onto Main Street in countless Louisiana towns, never got a “grant” to buy their storefronts, or a subsidy to pay for their water and sewer. But they paid their taxes all those years (or the equivalent in rent) and now find that their taxes are being used to underwrite the cost of giant retail corporations that are destroying their Main Street districts. It is more than ironic that the state is a willing partner in using public tax dollars to assist Wal-Mart in its efforts to gain market share. Wal-Mart reports that April sales were brisk — helped in part by state welfare from lawmakers in places like Louisiana and New York. All small businesses want is a level playing field, and an end to tax subsidized preferential treatment for the big players. Want to express your opinion? Go to the Louisiana state legislature website, and send a message to State Representative Hunt Downer (D-Houma) to thank him for being one of only two lawmakers, along with Rep. John Smith (D-Leesville) to vote against the Wal-Mart welfare.