Tax cuts for telecom businesses panned by some House Democrats

LEGISLATURE ROUNDUP: Property tax cuts for Comcast; Google Fiber meets criticism in House.

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A bill that would cut property taxes for companies like Comcast and Google Fiber is being criticized in the Oregon House after meeting little resistance in the Senate.

The chairman of the House Committee on Revenue, Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene), described the bill as “unfinished,” reports.

In particular, local governments say the tax breaks for cable TV and Internet companies are too steep and would cut too deeply into their revenue. The Legislative Revenue Office estimates the changes will cost $16.2 million in revenue this year, rising modestly over the next five years.

League of Oregon Cities’ Intergovernmental Relations Associate Wendy Johnson testified Monday: “Right now we think this is just too big of a loss.” 

Senate Bill 611 arises from tech companies’ concern over Oregon’s unusual methodology for valuing the assets of cable TV operators, Internet service providers and data centers. It’s a practice known by the arcane term “central assessment.” Oregon calculates the companies’ property tax bill in part based on the value of “intangibles,” including a company’s brand. It’s a practice that dates to the 19th Century and tech companies complain it’s woefully out of date, triggering tax liabilities well above what they pay in other states.

Some officials speculate that the central assessment is what is stopping Google from launching its Fiber services in the Portland area.

Pediatricians frustrated after vaccination bill fails

Some Oregon pediatricians said they were disappointed Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward stopped pursuing a bill that would end the “personal belief” exemption from children’s vaccination schedules, the Portland Business Journal reports.

“It’s frustrating when a vocal minority has such a large impact on legislation and the vast majority aren’t the ones who get all excited and call their legislators,” said Dr. Jay Rosenbloom, a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates of the Northwest and medical director for Children’s Health Alliance.

Steiner Hayward, who is a family physician, backed off her bill after it became clear it lacked sufficient support in the Legislature. Parents had testified at a heated public hearing that it took away their freedom and informed consent. The medical community largely supported the measure as a safe and effective way to protect children from serious and potentially life-threatening diseases, including measles, and to increase vaccination rates.

In a statement, Ken Cole of the Oregon Medical Association said: “No child should have to suffer a disease that can be prevented, nor should it take the resurgence of a disease to convince parents to vaccinate.”

Steiner Hayward has said that she would pursue a different bill that would address Oregon’s high nonmedical exemption rate.

Hospital tax extension heads to Brown

A four-year extension of a hospital tax that provides federal money to pay for health care for low-income patients has passed the Oregon Legislature.

The Senate approved the measure 29-1, the Portland Tribune reports.

The tax applies only to the 28 largest hospitals in Oregon, and the target rate is 5.3 percent of net patient revenues. … The tax is projected to raise $880 million in the next two-year cycle, which starts July 1, and would recoup an estimated $2.4 billion in federal funds from Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that pays for health insurance for low-income people. For the 2017-19 budget cycle, the tax is projected to raise just under $1.1 billion, which would recoup $2.9 billion in federal funds. The tax expires on Sept. 30, 2019.

Without the tax, Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, said Oregon would have trouble paying for health care and balancing its budget. 

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