School finance officials say they are growing increasingly alarmed by dramatic new estimates of tax revenue losses from the intangible tax ban amendment approved by Oklahoma voters last fall.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission initially estimated the new tax break for more than 250 companies centrally assessed by the state, including AT&T, Cox Communications, American Airlines, and various utility and railroad companies, at $50 million. But more recent estimates indicate the actual figure could exceed $100 million.
“We believe the estimate given by the Tax Commission last year when the voters were voting on State Question 766 to be grossly underestimated,” Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, told the Tulsa World
“Corporations got a huge tax break - a $100 million tax break on the backs of children.”
What Oklahoma voters approved in November is a state constitutional amendment exempting intangible property - things like client lists, reputation and intellectual property - from property taxes.
Revenues from those centrally assessed properties account for a significant portion of ad valorem funding for education in Oklahoma, with 65 percent of all that revenue from corporations and utilities flowing to common education and 18 percent to 20 percent dedicated to CareerTech.
Until centrally assessed property figures are reported in late spring, school finance officials are left to play a guessing game that could have dire consequences with their fiscal year 2014 budgets.
Trish Williams, chief financial officer at Tulsa Public Schools, said estimates for her school district alone range anywhere between $2.5 million to $6 million.
Union Public Schools officials say they think they could lose $2.3 million to $2.8 million.
“What the voters voted on, whether they realized it or not, was a tax cut to certain businesses statewide. The property tax those companies pay will decrease because they can now exempt themselves,” said Union’s chief financial officer, Debra Jacoby.
Taken altogether, the circumstances are shaping up to be “potentially a giant crisis for school funding that’s going to hit midyear of next year,” Crawford said. “Even if the Legislature put $100 million more into the (state aid) formula, we’re not going to get enough to not have a negative funding year.”
Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel said his office is engaged in the guessing game as well, and the implications shouldn’t only be of concern to schools, CareerTechs and county governments, the direct recipients of the affected tax collections.
“Our estimate is for $1.5 million to $5 million less for our 14 separate school districts. That’s a big, big guess. I’ve got to hope that’s all it is because nobody knows for sure,” Yazel said.
“There is no doubt taxes will go up for the average taxpayer. It’s guaranteed by that vote having passed - everybody’s tax rate will go up because everybody has to pay a larger amount when you have less centrally assessed value.”