Proposed Tax Amendment Targets Churches, Nonprofits

In the 1990s, dozens of evangelical ministries have flocked to Colorado Springs, in part because of a generous 1990 state property-tax law. But some of these ministries may be forced to leave Colorado or cut back on programs if state voters in November support the nation's first proposed state amendment to eliminate property-tax exemptions for all but a few churches, ministries, and secular nonprofit groups.

The amendment would end property-tax exemptions for around 5,000 churches, synagogues, and mosques; more than 1,500 nonprofit organizations involved in everything from arts to zoos; thousands of acres of Christian and New Age camp and retreat properties; more than 500 hospitals and health clinics; hundreds of fraternal organization properties; and most of the state's cemeteries and soup kitchens. The amendment would not affect these groups' existing state and federal income and payroll taxes, and it would have no impact on groups that rent facilities.

The only groups that would continue to qualify for property-tax exemptions would be nonprofit schools and universities and organizations that provide housing for prisoners, orphans, the elderly, the disabled, and the homeless.

State officials estimate the amendment would return nearly $3 billion worth of land to state tax rolls, yielding nearly $70 million in new property taxes. Under the terms of the amendment, this money would be returned to state residents in the form of decreased property taxes.

Edward McGlynn Gaffney, dean of the Valparaiso (Ind.) University School of Law and an expert on religious tax issues, calls the Colorado amendment "one of the most hostile measures imaginable" because it would reverse two centuries of government support for churches and charities. ...

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