Monday, March 13, 2006

Anchorage Baptist Temple "Sweetheart" Bill SB193 To Allow Tax Deductions For More Ministerial Properties Goes Forward

According to a report published Sunday March 12, 2006 in the print version of the Anchorage Daily News, entitled "Committee Gets Earful About Property Tax Bill", the Alaska State Senate has voted to move the latest version of SB 193 forward from the Community and Regional Affairs Committee to the Finance Committee. Unlike the original SB 193, crafted by Senator Con Bunde (R-Anchorage Hillside) on May 4, 2005, and co-sponsored by Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage Downtown) and Senator Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River), which simply authorized localities to grant deferrals or exemptions on property taxes to low-income property owners and forbade localities from charging interest during the appeal process, this version authorizes additional exemptions for religious organizations far beyond the customary exemption for a worship facility and a pastor's residence. Senators Bunde and Ellis are on record as opposing the new version.

Here is the controversial version of the amended bill:

01 "An Act relating to a mandatory exemption for certain residences owned by a religious
02 organization and to an optional deferral of municipal property taxes on certain primary
03 residences."
05 * Section 1. AS 29.45.030(b) is amended to read:
06 (b) In (a) of this section, "property used exclusively for religious purposes"
07 includes the following property owned by a religious organization:
08 (1) the residence of an educator in a private religious or parochial
09 school or a bishop, pastor, priest, rabbi, minister, or religious order of a recognized
10 religious organization; for purposes of this paragraph, "minister" means an
11 individual who is
12 (A) ordained, commissioned, or licensed as a minister
13 according to standards of the religious organization for its ministers; and
14 (B) employed by the religious organization to carry out a
01 ministry of that religious organization;
02 (2) a structure, its furniture, and its fixtures used solely for public
03 worship, charitable purposes, religious administrative offices, religious education, or a
04 nonprofit hospital;
05 (3) lots required by local ordinance for parking near a structure defined
06 in (2) of this subsection.

The Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) currently owns 10 residences exempted from property taxes. Six of these residences are occupied by teachers employed by ABT. The Anchorage Assembly wants to revoke the exemption for those six residences. The amended SB 193 not only would prevent this from happening, but could cost municipalities statewide an estimated $200,000 in lost taxes. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee on March 13th, 2006 where it died at the end of the session.

While I personally respect Pastor Jerry Prevo for his courageous stand in favor of traditional American cultural values and in particular his pronounced opposition to the promotion and protection of the homosexual lifestyle, tax exemptions are customarily limited to the religious facility itself and the residence of the primary pastor or minister. Perhaps in a church as large as ABT, it might also be appropriate to exempt the residences of a couple of the assistant pastors. Glenn Clary's workload as the assistant pastor at ABT is probably as great or greater than the workload of many other pastors. However, to exempt any other church properties is not only inappropriate, but in this case, may be discriminatory in favor of ABT. Remember, the Constitution states that Congress (or any subordinate legislative body) shall make NO law regarding the establishment of a religion. Contact your state lawmakers and urge them to oppose SB 193.

An earlier Anchorage Daily News story on this issue, dated March 10th, can be found here.

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