The Arizona House approved a bill to allow tax breaks to property owners who lease their space to churches.
The measure seemed to be off the table until three Republicans changed their “no” votes under pressure from at least 10 other Republican representatives.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) passed on Thursday.
Property owners who lease their spaces to churches for worship services will receive a tax break close to that of the churches themselves. Lesko says the goal is to help small churches who don’t own property and pay taxes through rent.
While the bill will only affect half of one percent of property owners, that will result in a loss of $300,000 and $2.1 million in tax dollars to the state in fiscal year 2016.
Rep. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler), one of the representatives who pressured the others into voting “yes,” said that property owners benefiting from the tax break must sign an affidavit saying they will not keep the savings.
“I don’t know if we’re against reading bills or reading all of fiscal notes, but if you look at it, it’s very clear we’re talking about a minuscule amount of money to the state that is going to have a huge impact to our tiny churches out there,” Mesnard said.
But for at least one representative, the possible consequences of the bill outweigh the benefits.
“I am voting no because this is another example of something that sounds good in a short title but can be morphed into something that has unintended consequences,” said Rep. Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek). “The property owner still fundamentally receives the tax benefit.”
The Center for Arizona Policy, a right-wing conservative group also responsible for the recently vetoed bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against gay patrons based on their religious beliefs, backed the measure.