Two Kansas churches are giving the city of Mission a lawsuit for Christmas. The Alliance Defense Fund, sort of the Christian right's ACLU, has filed suit on behalf of the First Baptist Church of Mission and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in an effort to get out of paying the so-called driveway tax the city imposes.
When the town's City Council approved the "transportation utility fee" (officials get pissy if you call it a tax), which collects money for road repairs, one of the more noteworthy things to bemoan was that non-profits like churches and schools were not exempted. This means churches could end up owing big bucks, and these churches aren't interested in giving to Caesar's what is Caesar's.
The crafty municipal moneymaker is set up to charge homeowner a flat fee
each year, but for businesses and non-profits, the price tag is
calculated on how many car trips they supposedly generate. Drive through
restaurants and big-box stores, for instance, face pretty steep fees.
The city has an oddly precise formula to calculate how much of churches'
coffers should go toward the fee. According to its logic, each seat on
each pew in the church generates 5.8 car trips per week. They must think
people to to church a lot. That can put a big hole in the churches'
collection plates. Charisma magazine reports
that First Baptist was charged almost $1,000.
The ADF is arguing that the fee is nothing more than a sneaky way to tax
property, and that, as non-profits, churches should be exempt from the
fee, just like they are from other income taxes.
ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley wrote in a blog post:
But this is not a "fee" at all. Rather, the charge is a
property tax in
disguise. And this new and unique property tax conflicts directly with
the Kansas state law that exempts churches, non-profits and charities
from property taxes.
So, the courts will have to decide if this is a property tax or a fee.
This should be a fun one to watch. If the churches lose, there's one way
they can get around paying: rip out all the pews, so the city can't
calculate the tax. Loophole!