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Tax Law

Level Up: Oregon Tax Court Increases Value of Telecommunications Company Property’s Real Market Value

On October 25, 2019, the Oregon Tax Court upheld the Department of Revenue’s proposed increase in the real market value of Level 3’s centrally assessed property. Level 3 operated an optical fiber network and provided various communication services. It argued that the Oregon Department of Revenue should not have included in its “unit” certain “investment attributes” it claimed do not qualify as property. The taxpayer argued that the first four attributes (future tangible and intangible property, present value of growth opportunities and potential mergers and acquisitions) “inhere in Taxpayer’s shares of stock and are not property that Taxpayer itself owns.” The court rejected this argument because “the potential for revenue growth may derive from an attribute of the unit of assembled equipment, real property, customer relationships and workforce in place, or from the ability of the company to attract merger partners and additional capital investment.” The legislature intended any or all of these factors to “‘count’ in the valuation of the unit of real, tangible and intangible property in place on any given assessment date.” The court then considered the remaining attributes, including stock liquidity, expected appreciation and favorable income tax treatment. The court rejected the taxpayer’s argument that, while the attributes have value, that value belongs to the taxpayer’s shareholders, not to the taxpayer as a company. The court was skeptical that some of the attributes created value for the taxpayer’s shareholders, and the taxpayer did not attempt to quantify any increment of value associated with any particular attribute. As a result, the court accepted the Department’s revenue growth rates, which resulted in an increase in the value of the property relative to the original assessed value.

Level 3 Commc’ns, LLC v. Oregon Dep’t of Revenue, TC 5236, 5269, 5291 (Or. Tax Ct., Reg. Div. Oct. 25, 2019) (unpublished).