Oregon House passes tax law aimed at Comcast

Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia. Image: Comcast

The Oregon House of Representatives approved a bill that will charge companies interest on disputed tax debt.

The new law comes as Comcast continues its eight-year dispute of a $147 million tax bill. 

RELATED: Comcast won’t fight interest charges on $150M Oregon tax bill

Comcast hasn’t paid state taxes in Oregon since 2009, when it began disputing the state’s unusual “central assessment” tax methodology. Developed in the 1800s for railroad companies, the practice now taxes companies like telecom operators for their intangible assets, such as the value of their brands.  

The League of Oregon Cities estimates that the MSO’s current liability has swelled to $170 million. The Oregonian, meanwhile, quoted Comcast’s outstanding Oregon tax bill at $147 million.

Backers of the House Bill 2407 claim current Oregon tax laws encourage companies like Comcast to drag out tax disputes, since they get to keep their money until there’s a resolution. 

But if the bill is approved by the state senate, companies would have to pay property tax bills of more than $1 million while their dispute is active. The county assessor would be able to put the money into an interest-earning account. The side that wins the tax dispute, either the company or the state government, would keep the money and the interest. 

Meanwhile, one of the other issues in question is whether Comcast is eligible to receive a tax break based on Oregon legislation passed in 2015, which offers breaks to operators of gigabit broadband services. Comcast isn’t offering its new DOCSIS 3.1-powered services in Oregon just yet, but the MSO believes its fiber-based 2-gigabit product, available in select areas, qualifies it for the tax break.

Oregon state officials say the fiber service costs consumers around $4,600 for the first year and is too expensive to qualify for the discount. This was the foundation of a May 2016 ruling against Comcast put forth by the Oregon Department of Revenue, which the MSO is now disputing in tax court. 

Separately, The Oregonian reported, Democratic state Congressman Paul Evans has authored a bill designed to settle Comcast's tax issue by having the MSO pay three-quarters of what it owes.

"Comcast is a great example of out-of-state corporations leveraging the courts in order to stall and/or evade paying debts owed the people of Oregon," Evans told The Oregonian.