By Zachary Atkins and Prentiss Willson
The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Colorado Division of Property Taxation did not violate a public utility’s equal protection and uniformity rights by valuing and taxing its property differently than cable companies’ property. The public utility, Qwest Corporation, is a telecommunications service provider that competes with cable companies for telephone service customers in Colorado. Unlike Qwest, which is subject to central assessment, cable companies are not treated as public utilities and, therefore, are subject to local assessment. The key difference is that public utilities are not entitled to the intangible property exemption or cost cap valuation method afforded by statute to locally assessed taxpayers. Qwest argued that the Division’s failure to apply the exemption and the valuation method to its property violated the federal Equal Protection Clause and its counterpart in the Colorado Constitution, as well as the Colorado Uniform Taxation Clause. Rather than seeking to invalidate the exemption and valuation method statutes, Qwest sought to have both applied to its property. The court affirmed the dismissal of Qwest’s complaint, concluding that the differential tax treatment has a rational basis for equal protection purposes and is not the type of differential taxation that the Colorado Uniform Taxation Clause prohibits. Qwest Corp. v. Col. Div. of Property Taxation, Case No. 11SC669 (Col. June 24, 2013).