BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PILOT GROVE – As part of his annual 99-county tour, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) stopped in Pilot Grove at Steffesmeier Welding & Manufacturing Thursday afternoon to meet with about 20 locals and talk shop.
Grassley, who had penciled in time to tour the facility and look at Steffensmeier’s solar field, spent about 30 minutes speaking with local educators, farmers, and business people about a wide range of topics facing Iowans.
One of the first topics Grassley encountered was a section of the new tax code that allows a 20% a deduction of grain sales to co-ops which could hurt smaller independent dealers. Grassley said he would favor that specific portion of the tax code being reverted to back to the code of 2005 to 2017.
“I hope this was an oversight by those who wrote the code. This is going to put independent grain dealers out of business,” he said.
West Point farmer Brad Freesmeier said the code needs to be addressed before March and said it would be tough for the Senate to get 60% to fix it.
Grassley said he thought the new tax code would be corrected in the March ominbus appropriation bill.
“There’s so much confusion out there. People think there’s one way and people out there starting to set up co-ops and by the time they get them set up it will get turned around and they will have lost that money. Something needs to be done quick,” Freesmeier said.
A Steffensmeier employee asked what was happening to bring more business to Iowa.
“Now if you’re looking at business outside of Iowa, that’s usually work for Iowa Economic Development people and the governor. I get on this at the fringe,” Grassley said. “It could be local or the governor or any place in between. They’d say, ‘I think it would be good for you to call company ABC and encourage them to come to Iowa.’ I’d get involved that way, but don’t make the decisions on incentives. I can advocate but don’t make those decisions.”
Grassley said bringing more high-tech jobs to Iowa and diversifying in that fashion will help bring more companies to the state. He referenced a change in the state tax rate on C Corporations that helped bring Apple into Iowa.
“The tax bill is going to help the whole country. You know, when we had a 35% tax rate for C Corporations that was very uncompetitive with the other developed nations around the world,” he said. “We reduced that down to 21% and now Apple’s going to bring back $350 billion and 20,000 jobs, as an example. One of our major car manufacturers moving something to Detroit from Mexico for 2,500 jobs. There’s a real feeling that capital that used to be stored overseas- you know – why pay 35% here when you can borrow for 3% over there. You borrow instead of bringing money back and paying a hefty tax. That money will come back now and encourage other investment and other jobs.”
Fort Madison Community School District Superintendent Erin Slater asked the 85-year-old Grassley about Secretary of Education Betty DeVos and her rhetoric about moving money from public schools into private accounts for private schools.
“Basically she’s the enforcer of laws we pass – like the disability act, vocational and college programs. She can advocate for help in private and charter schools. But there’s not much she can do about it because most of that is under state law,” he said. “I think a year ago everybody thought we were confirming a superintendent of schools. We used to get that, ‘Well, she’s never been a teacher,’ – well, we have several secretaries that weren’t from schools.”
Grassley has been quoted in other publication as saying the tragedy of the Parkland school shooting and the many other tragic shootings in the country are a result of mental health issues. He said there is a correlation to the reduction in mental health services and these types of tragedies
“You do have a problem that you aren’t getting enough mental health services, not only in Iowa, but nationwide. Because of a shortage of people to provide those services. The other issue is whether they are getting treatment or not. They should be on the list not to be able to buy guns. No one wants to talk about mental illness and you almost have to adjudicate it and those people are not getting the help they need. You just want to make sure Joe Blow, if he’s got a mental illness, is in the databank and if he goes into buy a gun he can’t buy a gun.”
Grassley received $9,900 in contributions from the National Rifle Association in the 2015-16 election cycle, the latest numbers available.
“I’ve had this rule for decades. Any contribution that is legal and doesn’t have strings attached I’ll take. Most organizations, and individuals for that matter, aren’t going to come to you and give you a check and say, ‘You can have this if you vote this way and that way’, because the next day you’ll get a check from someone who says just the opposite,” he said.
“We had 650 murders in Chicago last year and no one gets worked up about that,” he said. “Thirty times the amount killed down there. Nobody gets worked up about that. Shouldn’t they get worked up about that? Yeah, they should get worked up about that. For the first time since 2013 we’ve got an opportunity to have this debate again and I think we’ll have that debate in the next couple of weeks.”
He also briefly addressed President Donald Trump’s hints at arming school teachers.
“Maybe Washington could give money to incentivize it, but I’m not sure I want too many education decisions made in Washington. This should be a state issue.”