Zombie Bill: SB112 Substitute Sails Through the Senate

As many bills up on capitol hill do, SB112 came back from the dead after some tweaking and passed the Senate on a 20-8-1 vote. It’s now with the House, though it’s not yet on the reading calendar for a vote. While the tax break for cable operators isn’t as large as before, the premise of the bill is still fundamentally flawed as it does not consider a franchise fee to be payment for right-of-way. Make sure you call your member of the House and tell them to oppose this bill!

SB112 Fails in the Senate

SB112, the bill that would give cable companies a large tax advantage in the state of Utah, died on the Senate floor today in a 12-16 vote. While this doesn’t guarantee that a modified version of the bill won’t come back up for discussion, it seem less likely as the $7M price tag was a bit too much for the Senate to swallow. I think we can safely consider this one dead and buried for this session.

Oppose SB112

For the most part, the Utah Legislature has spent very little time focusing on telecommunications issues. From my stance, that’s usually a good thing as when they focus on the sector, it is almost always to promote an anti-municipal telecom bill. This year, however, brings a bill worth opposing. SB112, sponsored by my own Senator, Wayne Neiderhauser, seeks to cut the state excise tax rate for cable television without making any adjustments for satellite providers.

Sen. Neiderhauser explains the rationale behind the bill: cable subscribers pay more taxes because of franchise fees, so the excise tax needs to be reduced so that the total of excise tax and franchise fees is equal between the two platforms. This, however, is an entirely illogical basis for providing the discount. Franchise fees are paid to a municipal government as compensation for accessing right-of-way. This includes being able to tear up city streets and erect poles in order to deploy this infrastructure. It has no relationship or bearing upon the state excise tax.

The end effect of this bill is to give cable television providers an unfair advantage in the tax system, enjoying a much higher benefit for the same level of taxation. If you want to cut taxes, that’s fine, but doing so in such a manner as to create a greater inequity in the tax structure is absurd. I encourage you to write your legislator to ask them to oppose SB112 as currently written.