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Updated Apr 15, 2014 - 4:10 pm

Arizona Senate approves religious tax breaks

PHOENIX — A bill allowing private property owners who lease space to
churches to get a tax break will soon hit Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.

The Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 2281, which grants property owners
who lease to churches but aren’t themselves religiously affiliated similar tax
breaks to the ones churches get when they own property. The tax break applies
only to space used for worship services. The Senate approved the House-passed
bill with a 16-14 vote.

The bill would affect about one half of one percent of commercial property
owners, according to the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office.

Still, that could cost the state between $300,000 and $2.1 million in fiscal
year 2016.

Proponents say the bill helps small churches that don’t yet have the income to
build their own establishments.

“It seems to me it’s a simple issue of social justice,” Sen. Steve Farley,
D-Tucson, said. “Why should the rich churches get the tax break and the small
churches don’t?”

But many other Democrats opposed the measure.

“What this is doing is raising taxes for other properties in surrounding
districts,” Sen. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, said. “Once again this is a tax
increase for the citizens of Arizona.”

Others worried the bill would make it easy for private property owners to
commit fraud by not passing on the tax savings to their tenants.

But proponents said the bill requires property owners to disclose to their
renters that they are receiving a tax break.

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