by Max Brantley
A tipster alerts me to an important ruling yesterday by the Arkansas Supreme Court. That decision upheld a Pulaski Circuit Court ruling that the Tax Division of the Arkansas Public Service Commission had legally included intangible property, such as franchise agreements with cities and customer goodwill, in assessing the value of several cable TV companies -Falcon Cable, Falcon Telecable, Interlink Communications Partners and Charter Communications - for property tax purposes.
The PSC assessess utility property and then sends the figures to counties, which apply the relevant property tax rate in the jurisdiction. School taxes account for the bulk of property taxes, though city and county levies also apply to property. Cable companies contended they weren't required to pay taxes on intangibles as other utilities (but not ordinary taxpayers are.)
A number of other cable companies had challenged inclusion of intangible property as well, so the effect of the ruling is broader than just the companies in the lawsuit.
John Bethel, director of the PSC, was trying to get a figure for the total assessment of intangible personal property at issue in this case and related contests. Several have been paying the taxes under protest and the money has been set aside pending resolution of the court case. Barring a rehearing of this week's decision, that money should be payable. Friday afternoon turns out to be a hard time to find a readily available public official with an accounting on how much money this could mean to affected school districts and local governments.