There was a somewhat snarky debate in the Iowa Senate this week over giving the Des Moines Social Club $150,000 in state gambling taxes.

The money would have been used to buy or lease an historic firehouse to serve as the Des Moines Social Club’s new clubhouse, but senators ultimately decided against making the move. Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, objected to giving the Social Club any state tax dollars.

“Let me read from the constitution. It says, ‘No public money or property shall be for appropriated for local or private purposes unless such appropriation, compensation or claim be allowed by two-thirds of the members elected to each branch of the General Assembly,” Chelgren said during senate debate. “We would have to pass this appropriation by two-thirds. In order to avoid that, I’m recommending that we just strike it out of the bill in order to take care of things.”

Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, called that “constitutional nonsense” and defended the Des Moines Social Club as an organization that allows young professionals to network as they enjoy concerts, comics and other cultural events.

“This is an opportunity for the state of Iowa to embrace young professionals which business is desperately trying to attract and keep in the state,” McCoy said. “We don’t have oceans in the state of Iowa. We don’t have mountains and frankly, our winters kind of suck, so this gives young people a reason to stay in the state of Iowa.”

Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, argued against giving a non-profit group like the Des Moines Social Club any support from state taxpayers. 

“What about Sioux City Social Club? What about Iowa City Social Club? I belong to the Hull Kiwanis. I’m their treasurer. I wish I could get — no, I don’t wish I could get taxpayer money. But can you see the problem?” Feenstra asked during debate. “Every social club would want taxpayer money if we go down this path.”

The money would have come from state gambling taxes that are deposited in the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund and legislators decide how that money is spent. Senator McCoy didn’t give up easily, however, arguing the Des Moines Social Club should be rewarded for catering to 20- and 30-year-olds.

“I would urge you to go back and check the rosters at your Rotary Clubs,” McCoy told his fellow senators. “I guarantee you if you’ve got more than 10 percent of your people under the age of 30, I’ll give you $100.”

Eventually, though, senators decided against giving the Des Moines Social Club $150,000 in state support.