Okla. Legislature approves dramatic cut in property tax for new wireless technology

By Sean Murphy, AP
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Okla. Legislature OKs reduction in wireless tax

OKLAHOMA CITY — The property tax rate on new wireless technology infrastructure in the state would be nearly cut in half under a bill narrowly approved Tuesday by the Oklahoma House.

Members voted 53-46 for a bill by House Speaker Chris Benge that would reduce from 23 percent to 12 percent the tax rate on new wireless telecommunications property in Oklahoma. A bill needs 51 votes to pass the House. The measure now heads to the governor, who has not indicated if he would sign it.

Benge, R-Tulsa, said the bill would encourage wireless companies operating in Oklahoma to invest more in bringing new technology, such as cell phone towers, to Oklahoma. The reduced assessment rate is scheduled to expire in 2013 under the bill.

“I would argue there is a lot of investment that is not occurring because of the high (tax) rate,” Benge said. “By lowering the rate, I think we’ll start getting more investment in these technologies. …

“Capital will not go where it’s not welcome.”

State Rep. Ryan Kiesel, who opposed the bill, called that argument “bogus.”

“They’re going to invest in new technologies based on where the customers are, not based on whether they’re assessed at the current rate or whether we cut their rate in half,” said Kiesel, D-Seminole.

Telecommunications companies are among a handful of industries — including gas and electric utilities, telephone companies and railroads — that are centrally assessed on ad valorem taxes, which mostly fund local schools. Most companies are assessed locally in each of the state’s 77 counties.

Reducing the ad valorem assessment rate will result in less money for schools, Kiesel and others argued.

“What they’re asking for now, in the midst of this budget crisis, is to take advantage of both the central assessment and have their rate cut nearly in half,” Kiesel added. “That’s like having your cake and eating it too.”

Andy Morgan, a spokesman for AT&T Oklahoma, said approval of the bill will help ensure Oklahoma gets the latest wireless technology more quickly.

“Oklahoma is often at the bottom of the new technology list,” Morgan said, “and part of that has to do with the fact that we have the highest property tax rate among all the states.”

Because the bill affects only future investments, there won’t be any drop in the amount of funding provided to local schools, Morgan said.

“The schools and the education lobby were concerned about its impact, but in reality this could mean Oklahoma will get more wireless investment and it could get it faster,” Morgan said.

Morgan said AT&T was assessed about $14.5 million in 2009 on existing wireless infrastructure in Oklahoma.

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