Florida Supreme Court rules against satellite firms in TV tax fight


The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a law that set different tax rates for cable and satellite television services — overturning a lower-court ruling that could have had major financial ramifications for the state.

The 16-page unanimous decision rejected arguments by satellite companies DirecTV and Dish Network that the differing tax rates are discriminatory and violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That reversed a 2015 ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal that raised the prospect of the state having to pay refunds to the satellite companies.

RELATED: Complete Florida Legislature coverage

A key part of the case focused on arguments by the satellite companies that the different tax rates benefited cable companies that are “in-state interests” at the expense of “out-of-state” satellite operators. The satellite industry contended that violated what is known as the “dormant” Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

But the Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Peggy Quince, rejected such a distinction between the two types of television providers. Quince pointed, in part, to the fact that Florida’s largest cable providers are headquartered out of state, as are the satellite companies.

“The cable and satellite companies have employees and property both inside and outside of Florida to facilitate their operations and earn income,” Quince wrote. “They both employ Florida residents to sell, maintain, or repair their service to Florida customers. They also own and lease a significant amount of property in Florida.”

The opinion added, “Cable is not a local, in-state interest any more than satellite. While it may be true that cable employs more Florida residents and uses more local infrastructure to provide its services, the Supreme Court has never found a company to be an in-state interest because it had a greater presence in a state.”

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Charles Canady joined the opinion. Justice Ricky Polston concurred with the opinion but did not fully sign onto it. Justice Alan Lawson, who joined the court at the end of December, did not take part in the case.

The ruling was in favor of the Florida Department of Revenue and the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association. (Disclosure: The News Service of Florida and the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association have a partnership for the Capital Dateline Online news show.)

The case deals with the state’s communications services tax, which was enacted in 2001. Under state law, cable services are taxed at 4.92 percent, while satellite services are taxed at 9.07 percent, according to the Supreme Court ruling.

In a brief filed at the Supreme Court, the satellite companies described the difference in tax rates as “a 21st Century version of classic economic protectionism.”’

But Thursday’s majority opinion said justices did not find that the law was “enacted with a discriminatory purpose.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Trump, en route to golf club, predicts Michael Cohen won’t ‘flip’
Trump, en route to golf club, predicts Michael Cohen won’t ‘flip’

President Donald Trump’s motorcade arrives at Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach this morning. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post) Moments after he arrived at Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach this morning, President Donald Trump blasted a New York...
Kris Kobach, once the face of Trump’s voter fraud panel, is held in contempt
Kris Kobach, once the face of Trump’s voter fraud panel, is held in contempt

Kris W. Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and face of the Trump administration’s efforts to clamp down on supposed voter fraud, was found by a federal judge on Wednesday to have disobeyed orders to notify thousands of Kansans in 2016 that they were registered to vote.  Kobach, who served last year as the vice chairman of the Trump...
Always a Palm Beach connection: Mar-a-Lago gets passing mention in Comey memos
Always a Palm Beach connection: Mar-a-Lago gets passing mention in Comey memos

View from the west of Mar-a-Lago during last month’s Palm Beach County GOP fundraiser there. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post) President Donald Trump was tweeting from Mar-a-Lago late Thursday night and early this morning about fired FBI Director James Comey, his book tour and the release of 15 pages...
Across Midwest, farmers warn of GOP losses over Trump’s trade policy
Across Midwest, farmers warn of GOP losses over Trump’s trade policy

Here in the largest soybean-producing county in the country, a snowy winter has left North Dakota farmers like Robert Runck with time on their hands before spring planting — time they have spent stewing over how much they stand to lose if President Donald Trump starts a trade war with China.  “If he doesn’t understand what he&rsquo...
Judge in Michael Cohen case described as no-nonsense, ‘judicial equivalent of Teddy Roosevelt’
Judge in Michael Cohen case described as no-nonsense, ‘judicial equivalent of Teddy Roosevelt’

 Judge Kimba M. Wood had barely finished a hearing this week that involved both Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, and — in a stunning revelation — Fox News host Sean Hannity, when the right-wing media machine started going after her.  InfoWars, the conspiracy theory website run by Alex Jones, posted an article...
More Stories