A proposed tax break for some religious groups could be the first test of Governor Doug Ducey's allegiance to the state's powerful Religious Right forces.
Former Governor Jan Brewer last year vetoed a bill that would have made a property-tax exemption for religious groups that lease their places of worship. An extremely similar version of that bill, backed by the notorious Center for Arizona Policy, is already gaining momentum again this year.
Perhaps the Center for Arizona Policy is expecting Governor Ducey to be a little more friendly to their cause than Brewer.
"I can't imagine why it would be back otherwise," Secular Coalition for Arizona lobbyist Tory Anderson tells New Times.
Ducey had Center for Arizona Policy president Cathi Herrod as one of his "policy advisers" during his run for governor, although he had to distance himself from her to an extent.
Of course, the Center for Arizona Policy became national news last year as the main force behind Senate Bill 1062, a bill that was widely perceived as being anti-gay. After massive outcry, Brewer vetoed that bill, and Ducey voiced opposition to the bill as well.
However, Ducey's beliefs align just about perfectly with Herrod's -- according to Ducey's candidate surveys -- and he's donated money to Herrod's organization through the the Ducey Family Foundation.
Ducey's spokesman did not respond to an email requesting comment on this bill.
Last year, state budget staff estimated such a change in the tax law could have cost the state as much as $2.1 million, starting in 2016. Such an estimate hasn't been made available yet for this year's bill.
"Why are we giving this to the churches and not the charities?" Anderson says, as the Secular Coalition for Arizona leads the fight against this bill. "It's really just privilege in tax law."
Opponents of the bill have pointed out one specific person who would likely benefit from this bill -- notorious Tempe pastor Steven Anderson (no relation, obviously), who's gained national attention for calling for the execution of gays, praying for President Obama's death, and referring to Jews as the "anti-Christs."
County property records show the commercial complex where Anderson's Faithful Word Baptist Church is located, near 48th Street and Southern Avenue in Tempe, is currently assessed at the full 18.5 percent. Under this bill, that rate would be lowered to 1 percent, for that part of the property.
We've reached out to Anderson for his thoughts on the bill, and we'll update this post if we hear back.
This year's version of the bill still has quite a ways to go before it's up to Ducey, although it was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday.
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