Wisconsin Joins Other States in Trying 'Wal-Mart Tax'

June 2, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The state of Wisconsin has joined other states in trying to force retailing giant Wal-Mart into paying more for its employees' health-care coverage.

State Representative Terese Berceau has introduced a bill to tax every retailer in the state with gross receipts exceeding $20 million per year that pays less than 10% of the retailer’s payroll towards health care costs for employees, according to a Madison Capital Times news report. The tax would apply only if the annual compensation that the retailer pays to each entry-level employee who holds a full-time job is less than $22,000, or if 25% of the employees do not hold full-time jobs, according to the report.

“Wal-Mart and other big corporations have gotten outrageously rich by outsourcing health care costs. …You can afford low-cost prices when you force Wisconsin taxpayers to pick up the tab,” Berceau told a Madison rally this week, according to the news report. “Big business too often privatizes the profit and socializes the costs.”

The rally was part of a multi-state effort to make Wal-Mart pay the costs of health care insurance for its thousands of employees, the newspaper said.

According to the newspaper, Wisconsin paid $2.7 million in 2004 to provide BadgerCare coverage for 1,252 Wal-Mart employees and dependents who qualify for the insurance program for the working poor. In total, the state paid $7.8 million to cover 3,585 employees and dependents of 18 large employers under the BadgerCare program. The revenue from the tax Berceau is proposing would be deposited into the Medical Assistance Fund, which funds BadgerCare and other programs for low-income people.

Company spokesman Dan Fogleman, told the newspaper that the rally was “a publicity stunt” organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which he said has unsuccessfully tried to unionize Wal-Mart stores. “The health care issue is much broader than Wal-Mart,” he said. “Maliciously targeting one company does not offer any solutions.”

He added that Wal-Mart does not design its benefits plan to be supplemented by public assistance. “Nor do we encourage our associates to apply for public assistance,” Fogleman said.

Wisconsin legislators as well as those in several other states (See Another State Takes Aim at Wal-Mart’s Health Care ) are starting to pay attention to the amount of tax dollars being spent to provide health care to the company’s workers. For example, the Maryland Legislature approved a bill, though it was vetoed by the governor, that would have required Wal-Mart to spend at least 8% of its payroll in the state on health care ( Maryland Governor Vetoes Wal-Mart Health Spending Bill ).