The Iowa Senate has passed legislation that would set up new tax credits for Iowans who donate home-grown food to food banks.

It also would devote $2 million in state tax money to Iowa food banks every year. Representative Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, is the bill’s main author.

“We can begin our state’s journey to end hunger today in our own backyard, one dollar at a time,” Petersen said.

Thirty-four Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Senate supported the bill, but 15 Republicans, including Senator Jerry Behn of Boone, voted against it.

“Iowa should not be in the grocery business,” Behn said. “Let’s let the private sector do what it does. Let’s let the food banks do what they do.”

Senator Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, said that state appropriation to food banks removes the “choice” of charity.

“I cannot support a bill that requires and forces taxpayers to donate,” Chapman said.

The bill is a second attempt to send state tax dollars to food banks. Last year an overwhelming majority of legislators voted to provide food banks with half a million dollars worth of state support, but Republican Governor Terry Branstad vetoed the idea. During today’s debate Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said he was “disgusted” by Branstad’s action.

“Here’s a man who lives in a building provided by the State of Iowa — beautiful building, a mansion,” Hogg said, “…and in that mansion where he lives, gets a state-funded chef.”

Those comments riled Republicans like Senator Sandy Greinerof Washington, Iowa, who supported the bill.

“You don’t know how close you came from turning my vote from a yes to a no,” Greiner said. “You never know where your friends are — and you almost lost one today.”

Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, said it’s a “crime” that one in five Iowa kids goes hungry on a regular basis, while Iowa farmers are converting corn into ethanol.

“That is the height of arrogance, when you can take your food in a hungry world and turn it into fuel to put in your vehicles and yet we can’t feed our children, in our state, in our own town, in our own neighborhoods?” McCoy said. “That is a complete breakdown of morality of a state, simple as that.”

Senator Dennis Guth, a Republican from Klemme, said it is a “crime” to force state taxpayers to donate that $2 million to food banks.

“I decided I’d call some of the folks back in my district that work with the food banks and they claim they’ve had adequate funding,” Guth said. “Whenever they get a little short, all they have to do is put out the words and there’s plenty of funds that come in.”

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, scoffed at that.

“Those of you who believe that there isn’t hunger in Iowa, you’d better open your eyes and take a close look around because it’s there,” Dotzler said.

Iowa is one of 13 states which do not provide taxpayer support to food banks. If the bill becomes law, Iowans could qualify for a tax credit of up to $5000 for donating the food they raise to food banks.