PHOENIX - Lawmakers are again seeking a big property tax break for a growing private Christian university in Phoenix, reviving an effort to benefit Grand Canyon University that was derailed over constitutional concerns in 2014.
The new legislation addresses those concerns by expanding the break on property taxes to cover any regionally or nationally accredited private university in Arizona rather than just Grand Canyon.
The move would include buildings owned by the University of Phoenix and other private universities. But Grand Canyon would remain the major beneficiary because it has a large residential campus that continues to grow while other private universities lease most of their property.
Senate Bill 1402 is sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough and 11 co-sponsors. The legislation lowers the property tax rate from 18 percent to 5 percent, a move Yarbrough said mirrors breaks given to big companies such as Intel and Apple in so-called free trade zones in the state.
Giving tax relief to Grand Canyon will encourage the school to continue a years-long building binge that has raised its property valuation and boosted values in nearby neighborhoods as well.
"You have to ask yourselves whether the overall greater good makes this a good tax policy," Yarbrough said. "I happen to think it is good tax policy."
Critics say neighboring property owners would pay higher tax bills if the bill passes and question why a private Christian school is getting a break when other institutions and businesses have to pay the normal rate.
"If you're a business in Arizona you belong .... with all the rest of the businesses," said Arizona Tax Research Association President Kevin McCarthy. "And you shouldn't get (a break) because you've got a good lobbyist."