SPECIAL INTEREST: A law Bart Hester passed that cut property taxes on billboard land has now been challenged in court. Brian Chilson

A taxpayer lawsuit was filed last week in Pulaski Circuit Court challenging a 2015 law aimed at cutting the property taxes on property leased for billboards.

Charles and Kaitlin Lott of Little Rock are plaintiffs in a suit filed by lawyer John Burnett against the head of the Assessment Coordination Division and Pulaski assessor Janet Troutman ward.

The lawsuit’s key legal point is that the legislation didn’t get the three-fourths vote required for laws dealing with changes in the law on valuation of property for tax purposes.

The lawsuit notes:


The assessment method mandated by Act 573 for off-premises advertising signs will result and has resulted in these signs being assessed at a value less than fair market value as derived from other regular assessment methods and less than the fair market value derived from the Billboard Evaluation Guide that was
promulgated by the Arkansas Assessment Coordination Department in 2015.

A tax break was the point, of course. It was opposed at the time because it was intended to continue unequal taxation (based on cost, not value) on a select class of property — that used by billboards. Sen. Bart Hester was the sponsor. According to Benton County property tax records, in 2015, he had a self-interest as an owner of property leased for billboards. He declined to talk at the time. After publication of this item about the lawsuit, he got in touch to say he  sent a message by Twitter:

I do not own land that has billboards or benefits from billboards in anyway. Please stop using bad information in your articles

He has declined so far to discuss his land ownership at the time. He tells me now that he has owned billboard land in the past, but not at the time the bill was passed in 2015. He said he currently has land with a billboard easement, but receives no benefit from it.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge,a Republican like Hester, dodged a request for an official opinion on the law when asked by Sen. Joyce Elliott.

To understand how bad this law was, consider this: What if your house was taxed at cost rather than market value?

Now we’ll get an official answer on constitutionality.