Vanderbilt Law Review

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To prevent the unreasonable burdening of interstate commerce that results from discriminatory state and local taxation of rail, motor, and air carrier property, Congress enacted section 306 of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (4R Act), 1 section 31 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, and section 532(b) of the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982.' These statutes represent the result of two decades of congressional deliberation over property tax discrimination against interstate carriers. Because Congress enacted the 4R Act first and because tax discrimination against rail carriers has been the most egregious,the overwhelming majority of litigation in this area has involved challenges to state and local tax schemes by rail carriers. As a result, this Note concentrates on section 11503. When necessary,analogies are drawn between court decisions interpreting section 11503 and probable interpretations of similar provisions in the mo-tor and air carrier statutes. The fact that the three statutes are identical or nearly identical in many of their significant provisions justifies this approach.

A lack of uniformity has characterized judicial construction of these statutes. Ambiguities within the statutes are responsible for much of the confusion. Courts have differed in their interpretations of terms that are fundamental to the statutes' application. Similarly, courts have differed in their approaches to determining whether an interstate carrier is suffering discrimination.5 As a con-sequence of this judicial divergence, carriers in some jurisdictions receive more favorable treatment than those in other jurisdictions.

This Note analyzes the current state of the law concerning property tax discrimination against rail, motor, and air carriers since the passage of sections 11503, 11503a, and 1513(d). Part II discusses the legislative history of the federal statutes, which appears mostly in reports of the congressional committees that considered, but failed to enact, earlier versions of the legislation. Part II addresses the constitutionality of the federal statutes. Part IV provides an overview of the statutes' provisions and identifies the ambiguities that have led courts to interpret and apply them differently. Part V considers in detail the judicial construction of the statutes and examines the varying approaches taken in different jurisdictions. Part VI briefly introduces the problems existing in the interstate oil pipeline industry, an industry that has yet to receive federal statutory protection despite congressional recognition more than twenty years ago that pipeline companies were being discriminated against by state and local taxing authorities. Part VII of this Note concludes by outlining several proposals for greater uniformity among courts in the interpretation of these statutes and recommending congressional action promoting uniformity.

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