- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Charter Communications LLC wants to take its tax rate battle with the state Revenue Department to the voters.

The cable television, Internet and telephone company is proposing a ballot measure that would reverse a Montana Supreme Court decision from December that increased the company’s taxes from $1.7 million in 2009 to $7.3 million in 2010.

Charter is working to protect our customers from a more than 300 percent tax increase,” company spokesman Brian Anderson told Lee Newspapers of Montana. “We hope to find a fair solution that’s in the best interest of Charter customers and the state of Montana.”

Sarah Cobler Leow, executive director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center, countered that if the initiative passes, “our schools and other essential services would be threatened by Charter’s refusal to pay its fair share toward our state’s economic growth.” She said it could also lead to increased taxes on homeowners and small businesses in more than half of the state’s counties.

The state Revenue Department declined to comment.

The ballot measure is intended to reverse a Supreme Court ruling that upheld a state Revenue Department decision to tax all of Charter’s property in the state under the 6 percent rate that applies to telecommunication services. A predecessor, Bresnan Communications, paid part of its taxes under the 3 percent rate that applies to cable television systems and began the tax challenge after a 2008 audit.

The Supreme Court’s 5-2 decision found “an analysis of the use and productivity of Bresnan’s entire network results in the inescapable conclusion that Bresnan uses a single transmission line to deliver three separate services,” Justice Brian Morris wrote for the majority.

Justice Jim Rice wrote the dissent, arguing the overwhelming use of Bresnan’s property is to provide one-way transmission of video signals. He called the majority decision a disincentive for companies to expand their telecommunications services.

Attorney General Tim Fox is reviewing the ballot proposal, which was submitted last month, before the company can begin gathering signatures.

Qualifying an initiative for the ballot requires the signatures of at least 24,175 registered voters by June 20, including 5 percent of the voters in each of 34 of the 100 state House districts.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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