Thursday, October 04, 2012

Further Reflection on State Question 766

Not taxable after State Question 766 passes
A response to an anonymous comment:
State Question 766 would apply to human beings. Florida's intangible tax put an annual assessment on the value of pensions and retirement benefits, until voters there repealed the state's intangible tax. A tax on intangible property is much bigger than just corporations. 

State Question 766 applies to human beings if you believe that corporations are people, my friend.

Florida had an intangible tax, repealed in 2006, that was a tax on stocks, bonds, etc. (pensions and other retirement benefits were exempted, though mutual funds weren't). Oklahoma has long had an exemption from intangible taxation from these types of personal assets, so there would be no change to the tax burden payed by people with mutual funds, for example. The Oklahoma intangible tax as currently structured only affects assets owned by businesses, and up until the 2009 decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, it only affected businesses whose value was assessed centrally by a state board, rather than locally by county assessors.

A centrally-assessed company (a public utility usually) pays taxes based on the value of the company as a whole. Southwestern Bell assessed the value of all their property, buildings, equipment, etc. (tangible property), and saw that the value of their company was greater than the value of their tangible property. They argued that they should be able to deduct the difference and only pay taxes on the tangible property. A judge disagreed, saying only things on the list of exempt intangible things can be exempt.

Locally-assessed companies saw this decision and realized that the exemption from ad-valorem taxation they had been enjoying for years was not actually codified in law, and there was nothing to stop property assessors from assessing and taxing the full value of their company rather than just the tangible property owned by the company. So they lobbied their legislators, got a temporary stop to having to pay any potential intangible taxes, and now three years later, this state question made it to the ballot where it will be overwhelmingly approved.

I'm not even saying that it's necessarily a bad idea to do away with intangible property taxation for businesses, and I certainly think that the difference in taxes paid due to the differing jurisdictions of the assessors is unfair. I just think it's misleading to bring this measure up to the public without explaining whom this tax affects. And comparing it to Florida's intangibles tax, which was a tax on the value of mutual funds and other assets held by actual individuals, is even more misleading.

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