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By Zachary Atkins and Timothy Gustafson
The Iowa Supreme Court passed on an opportunity to breathe life into equal protection jurisprudence and, instead, rejected Qwest Corporation’s challenge under the Iowa Constitution to a property tax regime that taxes the personal property of incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) but not competitive long distance telephone companies (CLDTCs) or wireless service providers. In 1973, the Iowa legislature enacted a phase-out of the state’s personal property tax generally, but telephone companies continued to be taxed on their real and personal property. In 1995, the legislature created an exemption for the personal property of CLDTCs in an effort to foster competition in the “facilities-based” telephone market in Iowa. Wireless service providers, like CLDTCs, are and have been subject to tax only on their real property. Rejecting Qwest’s challenge to the constitutionality of this regime, the court held that a rational basis existed for relieving new market entrants like CLDTCs of certain barriers to entry, such as a tax on personal property, to promote competition in a market long-dominated by ILECs, which continued to benefit from their previously held monopolies. The court also held that a rational basis existed for treating wireless service providers differently than ILECs because the two could be viewed as operating in distinct markets, and the legislature could have concluded that competition in the wireless market was sufficiently robust. Qwest Corp. v. Iowa State Bd. of Review, Case No. 11-1543 (Iowa 2013).