- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon lawmakers are moving quickly to deal with a property-tax question blamed for blocking major projects planned by Google and Apple.

The projects include a fiber network in the Portland area and an expansion of a data center in central Oregon.

Sorting out the problem is a top priority in the legislative session that begins next week, said Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton, a Senate committee chair. “It’ll be the first issue we take up in the Senate revenue committee on the first day we meet,” Hass said.

Officials told The Oregonian (https://bit.ly/1DkXEO8) that a state Supreme Court ruling last year raised the possibility of higher taxes on the central Oregon computer-server farms of Apple, Facebook and Amazon, and may have led Google to pass over Portland in its most recent plans for rolling out a fiber network.

“The Supreme Court decision threw this all into a briar patch. So, that’s a problem,” said Hass, a Democrat.

The issue is who calculates the worth of utility companies for tax purposes, the state or county assessors.

About 600 companies in Oregon are centrally assessed, by the state Department of Revenue. Those include airlines, railroads and pipeline owners. The state agency’s assessments are higher because it takes into account intangibles such as a company’s brand.

Last fall, the Supreme Court sided with Oregon counties against Comcast and upheld central assessment of the cable company.

The case was worth millions. At one point, when the counties were losing in the lower courts, it appeared that 10 of them might be on the hook for $17 million they had already collected, including $8 million in Multnomah alone.

Earlier this week, Google announced plans to roll out fast Internet service in four southeast U.S. metro areas that had been identified a year ago as strong candidates for the service.

That disappointed Portland officials. The region was also in the list of strong candidates announced a year ago. In response to the listing, the city made financial and regulatory concessions in an operating franchise for the company.

Google hasn’t said why it has since passed over Portland.

Similarly, Apple declined comment on why it dropped plans to expand its data center in Prineville and build an accompanying solar farm to help power it.

Hass, a Democrat, said addressing the question of taxing computer-server farms might be handled first because it’s easier: Central assessment hasn’t been applied to them, and counties haven’t been collecting or counting on the additional revenue.

Apple, he said, left open the door to reviving its expansion plans if the tax issue is resolved. “They’re willing to resurrect that if we do this in a timely way,” he said.

On the utility taxes, Hass said, the idea is to cap utility taxes rather than wipe out the source of revenue entirely.

“The counties are held harmless, and the companies have certainty. That’s good,” he said. “How you get there is more complicated.”


Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide