EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

February 1, 2012

Fight brews in N.H. over pole tax

Phone companies want the state to restore a property tax break for utility poles.

They argue the expense is passed along to consumers through higher bills.

The state's municipal association is fighting back.

Members dismiss the proposed exemption — pending before the Legislature — as a corporate subsidy underwritten by other property taxpayers.

"It is not the duty of municipalities and local taxpayers to rescue the telephone companies," the New Hampshire Municipal Association said in a statement.

The group is urging town officials to contact lawmakers and oppose the bill.

"People have short memories," Pat McHugh, New Hampshire president for FairPoint Communications, said yesterday following a legislative hearing on House Bill 1305.

The exemption came out of state tax reform in the 1990s, when lawmakers implemented a communications services tax to capture revenue from emerging wireless telecommunication businesses. They decided the pole tax amounted to "double taxation" and was unfair, he said.

The Legislature let the tax break lapse two years ago amid criticism the phone companies had an unfair advantage over other taxpayers.

No other business gets such a tax break, they all pay property taxes, the municipal association said.

"Many, perhaps most of them, have experienced hard times in the last three years. Yet, except for the telephone companies, not one of them has gone to the Legislature to ask for a property tax exemption," the association said.

Granite State Taxpayers leader Jim Adams said his group comes down on the side of the municipal association on this one.

"This is not a good idea," Adams said. "We were happy it was removed and we're going to stay there."

Adams maintains phone companies just pass along costs anyway.

"And look at all the tax breaks the state gave to Verizon, then they left the state," he said.

The pole tax isn't small.

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