Jan Brewer Vetoes New Tax Break for Religious Groups

Jan Brewer Vetoes New Tax Break for Religious Groups
Matthew Hendley

Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed a bill pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy that would have created new property-tax exemptions for religious groups.

Legislative budget analysts predicted the bill could have cost the state an additional $2.1 million starting in 2016.

See also:
-Center for Arizona Policy Hates Gays, Abortions, and Likes to Tell Politicians What to Do

While religious organizations already have property-tax exemptions, House Bill 2281 would have also exempted educational, religious, or charitable organizations from property taxes if they were leasing property to a religious group that used the property "primarily for religious worship."

If the property was owned by any other private party, and they rented to a religious group using it "primarily for religious worship," their property tax assessment ratio would have been lowered from 18.5 percent to just 1 percent, the lowest level allowed under current law.

The Secular Coalition for Arizona, which had a lobbyist fighting this bill the entire time, pointed out to its supporters that this legislation could help a group like the Faithful Word Baptist Church earn a tax break. (Under the law, the property owner would supposedly pass on the savings to the tenant.) For those unfamiliar with the Faithful Word Baptist Church, the church's pastor believes the government should be putting homosexuals to death, and he has prayed for President Obama's death.

County property records show the whole commercial complex where Faithful Word is located, near 48th Street and Southern Avenue in Tempe, is currently assessed at the full 18.5 percent. Under this bill, that would have been lowered to 1 percent, for that part of the property.

Since local property taxes help pay for the public-education system, and the state has to cover the cost when property taxes aren't enough under the funding formula, the legislative budget staff estimates this legislation could cost the state as much as $2.1 million starting in 2016.

"This bill would shift the tax burden to property owners not affected by this legislation and/or result in property tax losses for local governments," according to a budget analyst's report.

In Brewer's veto letter, she pointed out several concerns:

"First, since lease rates are based on market dynamics, there is no guarantee that the property owners will pass this benefit on to their tenants, despite a provision in the bill that attempts to accomplish this. Second, we know from experience the administrative challenges assessors deal with to accurately classify residential rental properties. Similarly, this legislation would have significantly compounded these challenges by requiring the tracking of commercial property usage, as well as leasing categories for the anticipated religious purposes. Third, unlike the information available on the known quantity of charter schools [which receive a similar tax reduction], there is insufficient data to determine the size of the tax shift to homeowners and businesses that would have occurred as a result of this legislation."

This is now the second Center for Arizona Policy-backed bill Brewer has vetoed this session, the other of course being SB 1062. Brewer has signed one CAP-backed policy bill, HB 2284, which allows for warrantless searches of abortion clinics.

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