For David Cerdan, 38, a council member in the textile town of Aspe in eastern Spain, tax collection efforts are more a matter of principle — an attempt to distinguish between the church’s religious role and its role as a moneymaker. In June, Aspe’s council passed a measure supporting the collection of property taxes on church-owned buildings and land with no religious or charitable function, such as a restaurant in the center of town.
“This is a moment for the country to stand up to the power of the church,” Cerdan said.
Not the right moment
Vicente Amad, a council member in the shoemaking town of Elda, which in August passed a resolution supporting a church tax, says that kind of thinking is narrow-minded because it fails to take into account all the public services the church provides. Amad abstained from voting on the measure, saying he doesn’t think this is the right moment for such a step. “It is in times of economic hardship that we need the church the most and need to support it,” he said.
Nestled between a line of hills and the river Henares about 22 miles northeast of Madrid, Alcala has been occupied by Moorish, Jewish and Christian settlers since it was founded in the 1st century B.C. Famous for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes and Catherine of Aragon, the city is one of the first Catholic Church districts in Spain. The local government has long had close ties to the church — the local bishop lives in a majestic 13th-century palace in the city’s center — but in recent months, relations have become strained.
The city is facing a budget shortfall of 33 million euros — nearly $43 million — that has forced cutbacks in everything from security patrols to the number of streetlights that can be illuminated at night. In May, the city council backed a proposal to collect municipal taxes from properties within its jurisdiction. The city of 203,000 is tallying which church properties would be affected and drawing up an estimated tax bill, but holdings that could be affected include university dorms, a school and even city hall.
One big challenge is determining which properties should be considered commercial, as many operate in a gray area. For example, Rubio asked, should a sweet shop that sells almond nougat and is run by nuns be considered a business?