Since the inception of our country, there’s been a kind of wall built between church and state. We have to say a “kind” of wall, since obviously it’s not complete — the tax exemptions given to churches have been agreed upon by many to put a pretty big loophole in it. Even so, there’s some logic there, on the basis that a government that taxes churches is effectively in business with them. But when it comes to picking winners and losers in the non-profit game, Arizona has decided fully which cross it chooses to bear.
This isn’t the first time House Bill 2128 has come to the floor. Pushed by the hyper-conservative, anti-immigrant Center for Arizona Policy, the bill grants churches that lease their properties massive tax breaks on the property assessment. It originally came to the floor last year, and passed the Arizona House, but was struck down with a veto by then-governor, Republican Jan Brewer.
That didn’t sit too well with Brewer’s conservative constituency — which is probably part of the reason she was primaried out of the Republican nomination in 2014, and was replaced by Doug Doucey. Ducey (not pronounced in the French “doo-SHE”) and his predispositions may best be summed up with his list of supporters in 2014, which included no less than Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Scott Walker and Jeff Flake. So, probably safe to say this bill wouldn’t get a second veto.
We’ll find out soon, too — it just passed the Arizona house again, with an almost party-line vote of 33 to 25. As of right now, the only thing standing between this blatantly unconstitutional bill and implementation is the signature of a guy who was supported by Ted Cruz.
Even so, there’s still some speculation on whether or not he’ll sign it. The bill is expected to cost the state up to $2.1 million a year starting in 2017. That might seem like small potatoes, but Jan Brewer (showing typical Republican financial aptitude) left her state’s economy a debt-and-deficit-ridden mess. He has voiced opposition to the bill; but, on the other hand, he’s also proven well in bed with the bill’s biggest backers, the Center for Arizona Policy. So, it remains to be seen whether he’ll keep with his political alliances and risk being primaried out like Jan Brewer, or prove himself equally fiscally irresponsible, and be primaried out anyway.
For sure, this is a profit-loss calculation for Ducey. But Democratic Representative Bruce Wheeler put the bill in a larger perspective:
“There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations across our state who provide a unique service to the community, including food banks, domestic-violence shelters, and veterans’ organizations. Many of these organizations are also leasing property and struggle with their bottom line. By giving this exemption to churches and only to churches or religious properties, you are indeed selecting one nonprofit service over others based on religion, and nothing but religion.”
So, who stands to profit from this new tax break, if not veterans’ organizations and food shelters? As many bloggers have pointed out, one of them is none other than Tempe Pastor Steven Anderson — aka “New Fred Phelps.” Phelps 2.0 will see his church’s yearly tax rates drop from the full 18.5 percent now to about 1 percent, should the bill pass. And every bit of that will go right back into Anderson’s pocket, so he can make more YouTube videos about evil Jews, executing gays, praying for Obama’s death.
You know, somehow we’re thinking that hanging Jews, gays and presidents from the ramparts wasn’t what our founders had in mind when they built that wall of separation.