Arizona House Passes Bill to Give Tax Breaks to Property Owners Who Lease Their Space to Churches

You know what people in Arizona need? Tax breaks! And representatives in the state’s House are giving it to them… if they lease their private property to churches:

The measure would grant property owners who lease to churches but are not religiously affiliated themselves tax breaks approaching the ones churches get when they own property. The tax break applies only to space used for worship services.

… [The bill] could cost the state between $300,000 and $2.1 million in fiscal year 2016.

House Bill 2281 passed on a 33-25 vote after Republicans bullied some of their colleagues into voting for the horrible bill:

Reps. Bob Robson and Jeff Dial of Chandler and Douglas Coleman of Apache Junction voted “no” before at least 10 members of their party took to speeches to implore them to change their minds.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, urged members to have compassion. Mesnard was visibly angry when he advocated for the bill.

In the end, Robson, Dial and Coleman changed their votes.

So much for the party of “fiscal responsibility.” This is an incentive that specifically benefits property owners who want to support Christian churches. (You can argue that the law applies to places of worship of any faith — but given the state’s demographics, rest assured we’re not talking about a lot of mosques here.)

It sounds relatively easy to abuse the privilege, too. What’s to stop someone who owns, say, a charter school from having some friends create a church of their own and then “leasing” them the space for it for the sole purpose of lowering their property taxes?

Furthermore, why is the benefit only available for places of worship and not other kinds of gatherings? What if I wanted space for a secular soup kitchen? Would people who lease me space for it have to pay the full amount of their taxes?

The fiscal notes for the bill include a portion that explicitly states how this bill would hurt the state:

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.

The bill was backed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a right-wing Christian group also responsible for the recently-vetoed bill that would have allowed business owners to legally discriminate against LGBT customers.

Now it’s up to the Republican Senate or Republican Governor to put a stop to this.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Richard for the link)

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