This could be the final week of the 2010 Iowa legislative session, with a series of financial decisions looming for lawmakers. One of the issues to be resolved is whether to limit state tax credits for beginning farmers and for scholarships that provide private school tuition.

 The Iowa Senate voted last week to cut the Iowa Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program in half, down to three million dollars. But Friday afternoon, the House voted overwhelmingly to keep the credit at six million dollars. It’s been available to farmers who lease or sell land or equipment to farmers who’re just starting out in the business. Representative Dolores Mertz, a Republican from Ottosen, says it is very hard, financially, for a young person to start out farming on their own today.

“This is an excellent way to get young people involved in farming,” Mertz said. “It’s also a very good way for a retiring farmer or someone who no longer wants to be active in farming to see that a young farmer can take that land. He can rent it to them, lease it to them — however he wanted to do that.” Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican from Alden, says she’s heard from a beginning farmer who’s benefiting from the program.

“Early in his life his father passed away and he couldn’t continue farming on his own,” Sweeney said. “But he has a neighbor who is willing to give him a hand-up so he can continue farming.” Representative Dwayne Alons, a Republican from Hull, says these tax credits help start the transfer of cropland from one generation to another.

“Some other states have tried this same measure,” Alons says. “But I think what’s unique here in Iowa is we’ve put a kind of premium on the senior land-owner that will stay involved and share-rent the land to a young, beginning farmer.” The House voted 94 to three to keep that tax credit intact. The House also voted not to reduce the amount of tax credits available to Iowans who make a contribution to a scholarship fund that provides tuition to private or parochial schools.

Representative Renee Schulte, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, says the scholarships are only available to students from low-income households. “We had over 9,600 students (in Iowa) receive these scholarships in 2009,” Schulte says. “I have at least six different schools in my district alone that rely on these tax credits.”

Representative Chris Hagenow, a Republican from Windsor Heights, says this tax credit shows legislators support school choice.

“And that we honor parents and that they are the best suited to make the appropriate decisions on what’s the best education for their children,” Hagenow says. Representative Betty De Boef, a Republican from What Cheer, says it saves the state money when parents send their children to private schools.

“It also is a great opportunity to challenge our public schools to do better,” De Boef says. “If you would look at the records I think you would find that Pella Community Schools have very high academic standards and that’s partly because they have a very challenging academic counterpart also in this town of Pella in Pella Christian High School.” De Boef graduated from Pella Christian in 1969.

Early this week, perhaps as soon as today (Monday), Senators will consider the House votes to preserve these two tax credits at current levels