Minority Tax Break Quashed By House

Viacom’s prospects for pulling off its controversial $2.3 billion cable system sale to a minority-controlled partnership dimmed further last week when the House of Representatives killed an FCC program upon which the transaction is based.

The House voted 381-44 to axe the FCC tax certificate program, which allows media companies to avoid or defer taxation when they sell broadcast or cable properties to minorities. Before the final vote, House Republicans rejected 234-191 an amendment from Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) that would have capped at $50 million the amount of taxes that could be deferred by a company unloading a media property to a minority.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where Finance Committee chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) said he will “keep an open mind” on the FCC program. Packwood said he’s planning a quick hearing on the issue, but warned the program will be terminated if GOP lawmakers conclude it’s merely an FCC policy aimed at ensuring quotas for minority broadcasters.

“The day of affirmative action in the sense of quotas is gone,” said Packwood. However, he hinted he might support continuation of the FCC program if backers can persuasively argue that the issue involves “access to capital” rather than affirmative action.

Packwood declined comment when asked whether the Viacom deal itself will be preserved by the Senate. Viacom execs are hoping the Senate will salvage the transaction.

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