New Tax Break for Arizona Religious Groups Approved by Governor

Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill that gives a new tax break for certain religious groups.

House Bill 2128, being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer after it was passed by lawmakers last year, but it got a better reception from Ducey.

See also: -2014: Brewer Vetoes New Tax Break for Religious Groups

The legislation creates a property-tax exemption for religious groups that lease, rather than own, their places of worship.

The governor's spokesman did not immediately respond to New Times' request for comment.

According to an analysis prepared by budget staff at the Legislature, this bill could cost the state up to $2.1 million starting in 2017.

"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," that analysis says.

Support for the bill was largely Republican, and opposition largely Democrat. The opposition argued that this was an unfair exemption for churches, as proponents argued that the bill is necessary because churches do good in the community. However, nonprofit organizations like charities didn't receive the same exemption.

"We've heard over and over on different bills, 'We can't play favorites,'" Democratic Senator Olivia Cajero Bedford said earlier this month. "But it plays favorites, and [would cost] the state too much money, and it's simply not not needed. In my opinion, this is unfair policy for the state of Arizona."

Opponents also noted that the tax break actually goes to the property owner that leases the space to a religious group, and there's no guarantee that they'll actually pass along that tax break.

Republican Senator Steve Smith argued that churches that own their own property already enjoy such a tax break, so this is simply making state law consistent.

"Our Constitution is very clear when it says religious associations and institutions are allowed to be exempt," Smith said. "So we're not reinventing the wheel and we're not asking that daycare centers and those that feed the hungry be exempt."

The Secular Coalition for Arizona made a pretty big effort to defeat this bill, including several protests at the capitol.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley