A Denver District Court judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by billionaire Phil Anschutz and wife Nancy seeking a nearly $ 8 million tax refund from the Colorado Department of Revenue.
The Anschutz argued that changes to federal tax law made as part of Congressional’s bill to respond to the 2020 pandemic, the CARES Act, also changed Colorado tax law, entitling them to claim a refund of their 2018 income tax law.
However, Judge J. Eric Elliff sided with attorneys representing the state in an 18-page verdict. Elliff found that it was reasonable for Colorado tax officials to interpret state tax laws to include only forward-looking changes to federal tax laws while interpreting the Anschutz “lacks the basis for their claims.”
Part of what influenced his thinking, Eliff wrote, was the implication that the state would have to cut numerous reimbursement checks for previous tax years if it were to agree to the Anschutz argument. He noted that “the inevitable reality of the plaintiffs’ interpretation is that the refund associated with the previous tax year would have to be borne by the person in which it was claimed. The plaintiffs demand a check and the money has to come from somewhere. “
Under the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, this could create “surprising cost burdens for years to come by draining available reserves and requiring reserve increases, thereby jeopardizing budget planning efforts by forcing the state to use part of its spending capacity to replenish Refund reserve at the cost of other government projects. “
The judge also revealed how much money the Anschutzes were looking for: almost $ 8 million – a fact the Anschutzes had kept a secret.
In a footnote, Elliff stated that the Anschutz “have made use of a public forum, and given the issues raised in the pleadings, the court concludes that any privacy interest (the Anschutz) in protecting the amount of the refund request is outweighed.” through the public’s right to information. “
The sum is only a tiny fraction of Phil Anschutz’s fortune. Forbes ranked him 50th on the 2020 list of the Richest Americans with an estimated net worth of more than $ 10 billion, although it could be higher after selling his minority stake in Los Angeles Lakers last month. He owns The Broadmoor hotel and resort in Colorado Springs and several Colorado media companies, including The Gazette, based in Colorado Springs and Colorado Politics.
He is also a partner in the Los Angeles Kings and, through his Anschutz Entertainment Group, owns the arena they play in, the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Although the value of the reimbursement may be small in relation to the assets of the Anschutz, the judge concluded that the total cost to the state of issuing reimbursement checks for previous tax years could create tax problems.
“The importance of reimbursement expenses to anyone who would qualify appears highly problematic, consistent with the (Anschutz) interpretation, compounded by the fact that neither the Colorado Legislature nor the electorate have arranged these expenses. ”Elliff wrote.
Elliff also noted that when lawmakers made changes to Colorado’s tax laws during this year’s legislature, they relied on the Treasury Department’s rules last year, which explicitly interpreted state law so that changes to federal law were only prospective are valid. These rules challenged the Anschutzes in their lawsuit.
“The General Assembly went beyond the mere failure to repeal the agency’s interpretation and affirmed this in the affirmative,” he wrote.
The Anschutz lawyers did not immediately respond when asked if they wanted to appeal the verdict.
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