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Deukmejian Office in Reversal, Says He Signed Cable TV Bill

Times Staff Writer

Five days after saying that Gov. George Deukmejian had vetoed a bill granting special property-tax benefits to the cable television industry, the governor’s office said Wednesday that Deukmejian, in fact, signed the bill and it will become law.

Deukmejian’s office said the foul-up was due to a “clerical error.”

Los Angeles County Tax Assessor John Lynch, an opponent of the bill, said he and other assessors were taken by surprise when they learned of the mistake while attending a convention in Palm Springs. The governor’s office notified the assessors on Tuesday.

‘We Were Stunned’

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“We were stunned. We were under the impression that the governor had not signed it, would not sign it,” Lynch said after returning from Palm Springs on Wednesday. Lynch calls the legislation “a blatant special interest bill” because it was drafted at the request of the cable television industry and will place a new burden of proof on assessors in tax fights with the industry. “This bill is going to cost us a bundle,” he said.

The governor’s office included the disclosure of the error in an announcement correcting “clerical type” mistakes on four different bills. The other mistakes were minor compared to the snafu on the cable television bill.

Initially, Deukmejian’s office not only announced that the governor had vetoed the bill, it included a strongly worded veto message with the announcement.

Deukmejian last Friday said he was rejecting the bill because it “would give preferential treatment to the cable television industry” and interfere “with a county assessor’s ability to determine fair market value.”

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On Wednesday, Deukmejian Press Secretary Kevin Brett said the governor in fact signed the bill because he thought it was fair. “It requires assessors to justify the appropriate method of property taxation. Assessors were changing the method of assessing property taxes on cable television companies. The governor did not feel that was fair,” Brett said.

Brett took full responsibility for the mistake, which he attributed to the pressure of dealing with an extraordinary amount of paper work. The cable television bill was one of more than 100 that Deukmejian signed last Friday, his deadline for acting on the 1,300 bills sent to him by the Legislature before it adjourned Sept. 1.

The measure was in the last batch of 37 bills that Deukmejian’s office released at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

To expedite the process, the governor’s staff prepares pro and con arguments, including proposed veto messages on all the bills. When Deukmejian decides to veto a bill, he simply signs the staff-prepared veto message. In this case, Deukmejian did not sign the veto message, but it nevertheless got mixed in with those he did sign. It was not caught by Deukmejian’s press office, which prepares the news releases. “We are not infallible. We make mistakes,” Brett said.

The cable television bill was drafted by the industry to get what they consider to be fairer determination of market value, according to Dennis Mangers, the lobbyist for the industry.

The assessors wanted to base the assessed value on a variety of criteria, especially intangible assets like the value of a cable franchise’s monopoly rights in a particular community.

The cable industry wanted to be taxed solely on the basis of their tangible assets, such as the value of the cable they installed. The bill signed by Deukmejian creates a new measurement--taxable value will be based on the company’s total gross revenues rather than on the company’s total market value. If county assessors believe the new tax framework results in an assessment that is too low, the burden of proof will be on them.

Assessors contend that the value of cable companies is much higher than their annual revenues because of intangibles that are not reflected in the fees, such as the value of monopoly rights granted to cable companies by local governments.

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