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Oklahoma’s vote on intangible property tax exemption to have uncertain financial impact on homeowners

Homeowners and locally assessed businesses could see property taxes go up regardless of whether Oklahomans vote Nov. 6 to exempt all intangible personal property from state property taxes by approving State Question 766, officials say.

BY RANDY ELLIS Published: October 28, 2012

“This whole thing is bad tax policy because you’re going to have every county assessor scrambling around looking for things to tax,” Morgan said.

Locally assessed business owners also have reason to be concerned, Patterson said. Under the Supreme Court decision, county assessors could begin assessing taxes on some of their intangible property, like copyrights and trademarks, he said.

Business activity tax

However, the Legislature foresaw that possibility and passed a temporary $25 business activity tax that locally assessed businesses currently pay in lieu of paying intangible taxes, Patterson said.

That in lieu tax would continue through next year, if the state question is defeated, so lawmakers would have another year to come up with legislation to prevent what could be a substantial tax increase on local businesses, he said.

Patterson said county assessors pushed for legislation last session that would have preserved the status quo by exempting locally assessed businesses and homeowners from intangible property taxes.

That proposal had widespread support but was amended in the last weeks of the Legislative session to also exempt centrally assessed businesses like public utilities and airlines.

Morgan said business leaders believe, as a matter of fairness, all businesses should be exempt from intangible property taxes.

Patterson said he agrees all intangible property taxes probably should be eliminated. However, before granting public service companies a tax break, adjustments should be made so some counties and school districts don’t experience devastating shortfalls, he said.

“The huge unknown about how much will be unfunded is our big question,” he said.

The financial pain will not be distributed equally among counties and school districts.

Centrally assessed

In Cleveland County, 4.11 percent of the total assessed property value comes from centrally assessed businesses. But in Noble County, where an OG&E power plant is located, that percentage soars to 58.86 percent. There are 22 counties that depend on centrally assessed businesses for more than 20 percent of their property valuations.

“Sixty percent of our county values are all from public service,” said Mandy Snyder, Noble County assessor. “And the majority of that is in one school district ... the Frontier School District.”

Snyder said no one can tell her how much money her county or that school district will lose if State Question 766 passes, but she believes the amount would be substantial.

“I hate to even say a number because I just have no idea, and that’s the scariest part,” she said.

Oklahoma Tax Commission officials estimate that centrally assessed companies would receive an average tax cut of about 16 percent but say the percentage would vary considerably from company to company. The average property tax cut for telecommunications companies is projected to be about 28.6 percent, while the tax cut for electric companies is expected to be about 10 percent.

Brian Alford, OG&E spokesman, said his company doesn’t know how much money it will save if the tax on intangible property is eliminated.

However, he said the company expects the total property taxes the company pays in the state will increase because it has been investing heavily in tangible assets.

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