Arizona Capitol

Arizona House Passes New Tax Break for Religious Groups

A new tax break for some religious groups was passed yesterday by the Arizona House of Representatives.

The bill, which is being pushed by the notorious Center for Arizona Policy, was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer after it was passed by lawmakers last year.

See also: -Tax Break for Religious Groups, Once Vetoed by Jan Brewer, Makes a Comeback

House Bill 2128 creates a property-tax exemption for religious groups that lease their places of worship, and there have been indications that Governor Doug Ducey may be more friendly to the legislation than Brewer was.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 33-25, mostly along party lines, with Republicans generally supporting the bill, and Democrats opposing it.

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

In a hearing on the bill on Wednesday, Democratic Representative Bruce Wheeler pointed out that lawmakers are often telling one another that the legislature shouldn't be picking winners and losers in tax law, yet here they are doing it.

"There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations across our state who provide a unique service to the community, including food banks, domestic-violence shelters, and veterans' organizations," Wheeler said. "Many of these organizations are also leasing property and struggle with their bottom line. By giving this exemption to churches and only to churches or religious properties, you are indeed selecting one nonprofit service over others based on religion, and nothing but religion."

Bloggers and others have pointed out one specific person who would likely benefit from this bill -- notorious Tempe pastor Steven Anderson, 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."

Indeed, Maricopa 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.

As long as the Senate moves this bill along, it could be the first piece of Center for Arizona Policy legislation to hit Ducey's desk.

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 after the group's SB 1062 -- which was perceived by many to be an anti-gay bill -- caused a national uproar.

Ducey voiced opposition to the bill, which was vetoed by Brewer, but there have been other indications that Ducey's relatively friendly to the Center for Arizona Policy.

In addition to having Herrod on as a policy adviser during the campaign, Ducey's family foundation has donated money to the organization, and Ducey has filled out candidate surveys that align perfectly with the organization's beliefs. Ducey's also advertised as the headliner for a Center for Arizona Policy event at the capitol next week.

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