Oklahoma lawmakers doing some good things on tax front

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: May 24, 2012

WITH the hubbub surrounding the income tax plan, it's easy to overlook the fact Oklahoma lawmakers are doing some good things on the tax front. Perhaps one of the most important bills advancing this year would block what critics say would be one of the biggest tax increases in state history.

Senate Joint Resolution 52 would submit a proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution to a vote of the people. The amendment would exempt intangible personal property from ad valorem taxation.

The measure is meant to resolve problems created in 2009 by the state Supreme Court's decision in Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma State Board of Equalization. In that case, the court held that intangible personal property exempt from ad valorem taxation was limited to specifically listed intangible personal property set forth in the state constitution. That ruling dramatically expanded the amount of intangible property subject to local assessment.

Defining “intangible” property isn't easy, which is one problem created by the ruling. Nonetheless, the court decision could result in businesses paying taxes on things such as customer lists, databases, employment contracts, patented technology, lease agreements, trademarks and trade names, licensed software, advertising, copyrights on advertising materials and technical documentation — and many similar items.

In fact, customer relationships and the “good will” a company enjoys in the community would be taxable because that intangible asset can be priced into the sale of the business. However, we have a hard time seeing how county assessors will be able to determine a fair-market value for that “good will” asset. Two businessmen discussing a sale will reach a price agreeable to both, but we suspect the county assessor will simply assume massive good will that translates into major tax payments.

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