Bill could give churches tax break

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- Lots of people have questioned tax breaks for religious groups. But now, the questions are even louder, all because of a measure making its way through the legislature. It could mean that property owners could soon be seeing a higher tax bill to help churches get a big tax break.

Arizona churches already get a big tax break on the property they own. But a bill at the state Capitol now wants to give churches the same break on the property it rents, passing the cost on to Arizona homeowners.

"This is not a fair law because it is picking and choosing winners and losers in tax laws," says Tory Anderson of the Secular Coalition for Arizona.

House Bill 22-81 would reduce the property taxes churches pay on rental properties by nearly 95 percent. The move would cost the state over $2 million, raising property taxes on homeowners and small businesses to make up for the financial hit.

"The winners are the churches and the losers are everybody else to the tune of $2.1 million," says Anderson. She said the tax break should be extended to all charities, not just faith-based organizations.

"This is definitely a trend in the legislature that we're looking at handouts and giveaways to please the friends of the legislature," she says.

One of the friends Anderson is referring to is the Center for Arizona Policy, the same group that pushed for the controversial SB 10-62, a bill that would have legalized discrimination against gay and lesbians.

The organization is the driving force behind the tax cut. Officials with the group say the bill helps small churches.

"Let's start with the premise: should a church be exempt from a property tax? Yes, they should be. It's in the Constitution.  Well, should a church unable to afford to purchase their property be dinged with a property tax?" asks Josh Kredit, an attorney with the Center for Arizona Policy. "I think most Americans, most Arizonans would say no, that doesn't sound right."

The bill could be voted out of the legislature this week as lawmakers look to wrap up the session