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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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