• Baltimore Judge: Billboards are not “Speech”

    Clear Channel Outdoor plans to appeal an adverse court decision in Baltimore that says the city’s targeted tax on billboards does not harm free speech.

    Clear Channel has challenged Baltimore’s billboard tax, which is based on square footage, since it was imposed in 2013.

    On February 27, 2018, a Maryland Tax Court ruled in favor of the city.  Clear Channel appealed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

    In an order dated October 22, Chief Judge Wanda Keyes Heard affirmed the Tax Court finding: “The tax is an excise tax on the privilege afforded to Clear Channel to do business within Baltimore City.  It is not a tax on Clear Channel’s right to free speech . . .”

    Clear Channel plans to take the case to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

    Legal outcomes in Baltimore and Cincinnati have been opposite.

    On October 15, a Court of Common Pleas in Cincinnati invalidated the city’s billboard tax as a burden on free speech.

    “The Cincinnati City Council has directly and unequivocally isolated and targeted for taxation a small group that owns and controls the means or instruments used exclusively for the exercise of First Amendment rights, as well as imposing a tax upon those means or instruments, i.e. the billboards themselves,” said Judge Curt C. Hartman in Cincinnati.

    The city plans to appeal.

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