Bishops concerned about school tax credits

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, talks with Bishop Martin Amos last week in Des Moines. (Photo by Anne Marie Cox/Des Moines Diocese)

By Barb Arland-Fye

Bishops from Iowa’s four dioceses met last week with state legislators in Des Moines to lobby on behalf of legislation relating to such issues as marriage, education, immigration and pay-day loans.

Front and center is a tax credit program that benefits Catholic and other nonpublic schools in the state. The state’s Tax Credit Review Panel has recommended cost-saving measures that would include reducing tax credits made to School Tuition Organizations (STOs) for scholarships that low-income children receive to attend accredited, nonpublic schools. A reduction in tax credits could be a disincentive to taxpayers who might otherwise make a donation, the bishops say.

Just last May, Gov. Chet Culver signed a bill allowing corporations to receive a 65 percent tax credit on their donations to STOs. Individual donors have earned a 65 percent tax credit on their gifts since 2006. The review panel proposed reducing the percentage of tax credit donors would receive and also recommended lowering the cap on STO tax credits to $5 million; currently the cap is $7.5 million.

“We know this is a give-and take situation concerning the tax credits,” Bishop Martin Amos told The Catholic Messenger after the Feb. 2 meeting with legislators. “Our hope is that they won’t lower the percentage of the tax credit even if the cap is lowered.”


He said the tax credit program benefits students, taxpayers and the state, which could see cost increases if students can no longer afford to attend nonpublic schools and enroll in public schools.

“It really is helping people who need help,” Bishop Amos said. In the Diocese of Davenport, for example, 828 students were awarded STO grants to attend diocesan schools in the 2009-10 academic year.

He and other bishops also stressed the importance of allowing Iowans to vote in a referendum on whether to amend Iowa’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  “We should leave it up to the voters to decide,” Bishop Amos said. The bishops’ support of the amendment is in reaction to an Iowa Supreme Court decision last year that legalized gay marriage.

Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, reported Feb. 9 that Republican leadership in the Iowa House had attempted that day to suspend the rules and bring the marriage amendment onto the floor for debate.

The motion failed 45-54 on a party-line vote, with the exception of Rep. Dolores Mertz of Kossuth, who was the only Democratic “aye.” Rep. Mark Kuhn of Floyd was absent.

Meanwhile, “the ICC asks Iowans to contact their legislators in support of House File 2350 and Senate File 2203, which would provide for conscience protections for religious organizations and individuals regarding marriage,” Chapman said.

Bishop Amos said he also spoke at the Feb. 2 gathering with legislators of his support for elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children by clergy and others in a position of authority.

The Iowa Catholic Conference hosts the annual Legislative Breakfast and a Legislative Mass. The Mass, celebrated Feb. 1 at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, was intended to bring Catholics together with state legislators to pray for wisdom in decision-making for all those who serve in government.

Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, presided at the Mass. His homily focused on Catholics’ responsibility toward church and state — based on Matthew 22:15-21.

Bishop Amos said Archbishop Hanus did a wonderful job in showing how the church has a place in articulating its goals and values in civil society.

In addition to Archbishop Hanus and Bishop Amos, the other Iowa bishops concelebrating the Mass were Bishop R. Walker Nickless, bishop of the Sioux City Diocese; Bishop Richard Pates, bishop of the Des Moines Diocese; and Bishop Emeritus Joseph Charron, C.PP.S. of the Des Moines Diocese.

While a number of legislators couldn’t attend the Mass because of work at the capitol, 51 of them attended the breakfast, the ICC reported.

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