By TOM JAMES , Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Internet and cable television provider Comcast has settled a long-running property tax dispute with the state of Oregon for $155 million, gaining a one-time discount but agreeing to a more costly method of calculating its taxes.
The settlement, which sends an infusion of cash to ten Oregon counties, resolves a dispute dating to a 2009 decision to assess the company's assets in the state as a whole, rather than piecemeal. The company had argued that because it provides TV service, it was exempt from rules allowing the broader tax assessment on communication companies.
Unlike local government tax assessments which count only tangible assets, so-called central assessment by the state's revenue department looks at the value of the entire company, including intangible assets. The broader assessment included about an extra $700 million in assets, according to media reports at the time.
The settlement amounts to about a 9 percent discount for the company: By paying $155.6 million, Comcast will erase about $170 million in back taxes, said Department of Revenue spokesman Derrick Gasperini. As part of the settlement, Comcast agreed to accept the broader assessment, and the larger future tax bills it would generate.
The settlement will be divided between the 10 counties in the state where Comcast has assessable property.
Gov. Kate Brown's office said in a statement that Brown had helped negotiate the deal, and urged local governments to use the cash bump to pay down public pension obligations.
Rodrigo Lopez, a regional vice president for the company, said in an email the company was happy with the outcome.
The agreement "gives local communities certainty around funding, (and) provides Comcast predictability on property taxes," Lopez wrote.
A key issue in the dispute had been whether the internet giant qualified as a communications company.
That designation qualifies a company for central assessment by the state, and Comcast had argued it was technically exempt because it used its infrastructure primarily to provide television service.
But the state Supreme Court rejected that argument in 2014, ruling unanimously that Comcast — which uses the same infrastructure for both television and internet service — qualified as a communications company.
That designation, in turn, put the company in a category allowing the state to assess its value as a whole company.
Along with the one-time payments, the settlement included an agreement by Comcast to the use of the broader assessment and also a withdrawal of an application for a tax exemption, meaning the company will pay more taxes in future years than in the past.