WASHINGTON, D.C. | A small business owner from the tiny town of Cushing, Iowa, found himself shaking hands with President Trump in the Oval Office Wednesday.
John Anfinson was one of seven U.S. business owners invited to the White House to meet Trump, who thanked them for sharing with their employees some of the savings from the tax cut bill championed by the Republican president and the GOP-led Congress.
Of the seven companies honored by Trump, Anfinson's business, Anfinson Farm Supply, was easily the smallest.
Within days of the bill’s passage in December, Anfinson gave all seven full-time employees a $1,000 bonus, plus a 5 percent pay raise.
“That way the money flows back into the community,” Anfinson told The Journal after the ceremony.
The independent farm supply store also employs some part-time workers during the busy spring season. The owner said he is also considering giving them bonuses as well "because it would be fair."
His recent generosity isn't something his employees took for granted.
“I’m very grateful for the bonus and raise I received,” said Shawn Joy, who has worked as an applicator/operator at the business for about five years.
The opportunity to meet with Trump was pretty random, Anfinson said. He registered his business on the Americans for Tax Reform website, along with many other businesses that have benefited from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Shortly after he registered, Anfinson said a writer from the website reached out to him to do an interview for an article that was published Jan. 9.
Things were quiet again until last week when Anfinson received a call from Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. He said he thinks Ernst was feeling him out because the next day he received a call from a White House staffer. After a short interview, Anfinson said he was invited to fly out to Washington.
Anfinson said he spent most of Wednesday in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building before being taken to the White House, where they hung out in the bowling alley before the Oval Office meeting.
Admittedly, Anfinson said he was nervous about meeting Trump, but he said the president did a great job of putting everyone at ease and was charismatic.
“He walked in the room and about 30 seconds later he had us laughing,” Anfinson recalled.
As they took group and individual photos with Trump, Anfinson said he was impressed that the president was able to remember everyone's name and little tidbits about them.
Anfinson was joined at the Oval Office ceremony by China Edwards of Bank Midwest, Independence, Missouri; William Harmon of Total System Services, Muscogee County, Georgia; Jessica Melendez of Jergens Inc., Cleveland; Michael Porter of Aflac, Columbus, Georgia, Patrick Sobers of National Band Holdings Corp., Arapahoe County, Colorado; and Sue Wagner of Bank of Colorado, Fort Collins, Colorado.
Trump called on them one by one. When it came Anfinson's turn to speak, he introduced himself and noted, "we’re a very small business compared to the rest of the people in the room, I’m sure. I have seven employees."
Immediately after the tax bill passed, Anfinson said he decided to give bonuses and pay raises to his employees.
"... I felt like somebody — a kid who just got the new keys to the car," he told the audience, according to a White House transcript of the meeting. "You know, “Oh, we got to do something with this, you know, and make the best of it and go ahead with it.' So, you know, it just seemed like the thing to do right away."
More than 275 U.S. companies have announced bonuses, raises, expanded benefits, or new jobs as a result of the tax bill, according to the White House.
Anfinson said he also plans to reinvest some of the tax savings in his business, which has been in his family for 100 years. The Cushing company was started by Anfinson’s maternal grandfather as a general store that sold milk, produce, clothes and other items for farmers.
For the last 46 years, after taking over from his father, Anfinson has run the place. He has no plans of retiring anytime soon.
Cushing Mayor Don Joy Jr., who is also Shawn Joy's father, said he's known Anfinson his entire life and is glad to see him in the national spotlight.
"He runs a really nice operation in Cushing," Joy Jr. said. "He pays his help excellent — just a great guy to work for. ... A good employer to have in town."
While news typically travels fast in small towns, most Cushing residents weren't even aware that Anfinson was heading to the White House until the last minute, Joy Jr. said.
Despite the initial hush-hush nature of the visit, the mayor noted this is something the entire community can hang its hat on.
"Quite an honor for a town of 240 people," he said.
DES MOINES | Programs designed to clean Iowa’s waterways will get a state funding boost under a new law that was the first signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Reynolds on Wednesday signed her first bill into law since becoming the state’s governor in May; she was promoted from lieutenant governor after former Gov. Terry Branstad became U.S. ambassador to China.
Completing a challenge she laid out just three weeks earlier in her first condition of the state address, Reynolds signed into law a bill that creates new funding for water quality improvement projects across the state.
“I’m really excited. We’ve been working on this a long time,” Reynolds said after signing the bill in the governor’s formal office at the Iowa Capitol.
The new law will produce roughly $282 million for water quality projects over the next 12 years, according to Republican state legislators.
The funds will support projects designed to filter nutrient pollutants out of Iowa waterways, and decrease soil erosion and pollutant runoff into waterways.
“This legislation is a significant boost as we continue our work on this important issue,” Bill Northey, the state’s agriculture secretary, said in a statement. “We are excited to build on the strong foundation that has been established as we expand our collaborative, science-based efforts to achieve the water quality goals we all share.”
Critics of the legislation say it does not provide adequate funding — an Iowa State University report says the state’s water quality issues require $4 billion in program funding — and does not provide any methods to measure the funded programs’ effectiveness.
Democrat Rob Hogg, a state senator from Cedar Rapids, called the legislation “a facade.”
Reynolds and other statehouse Republicans have said the legislation is not the end of the state’s effort to encourage and fund water quality programs in the state.
“I’m really proud of it. I think it is a significant step forward,” Reynolds said. “And we look forward to continuing the conversation. It’s a really important issue.”
Iowa is one of 10 states that is contributing harmful nutrient pollutants that are flowing through the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, killing marine life there.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's State of the Union offer of a "down-the-middle compromise" on immigration did nothing to move Republicans and Democrats closer to a deal Wednesday, as Democrats accused the president of lacing his speech with racially charged remarks and Republicans dug in on their demands.
The reaction to Trump's high-profile overture suggested both parties were settling into a protracted tug-of-war. The standoff left serious doubt whether the two parties could reach an election-year pact to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, sharpen border security and take other steps to curb immigration. The two parties had not even settled on a deadline an agreement — a bad sign in an institution that rarely acts unless under pressure.
"If the deadline is Feb. 8, we're not going to make it," No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Wednesday, noting a looming deadline for approving government funding to avoid another shutdown.
"It's going to take work for us to build a consensus," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House GOP vote counter, said in an interview Tuesday. Scalise noted that Republicans took "weeks and weeks" to craft tax legislation last year.
Earlier this month, Senate Democrats looking to pressure Republicans to reach an immigration deal forced a three-day federal shutdown. While many Democrats have little appetite to repeat that strategy, party leaders have yet to indicate if they'll let future budget legislation move forward without an immigration accord.
The tone of the immigration debate, already testy, seemed to worsen after Trump asserted Tuesday night that "open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities" and let millions of immigrants "compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday that Trump used "insulting words of ignorance and prejudice." Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., who leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the remarks were "meant to enflame tensions about immigrants" and would stir up Trump's conservative base but damage talks.
Republicans said Democrats are not making serious offers as they bargain over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era program that's shielded "Dreamers" in the U.S. illegally who were brought here as children. Trump said last year he was ending the program, claiming executive overreach by President Barack Obama, but gave Congress until March 5 to enshrine it into law.
"If Democrats don't figure out a way to negotiate, then the DACA program will end and that's not an outcome I think anybody would like," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate GOP leader. "But they will be responsible for it."
Even that March 5 date was in doubt, according to Hoyer, who's been meeting with other leaders. He said Wednesday that Republicans suggested Trump could extend that deadline, though a congressional GOP aide said he was unaware of that.
The urgency of the March 5 deadline was also blunted by a federal judge's decision to temporarily block the end of the DACA program. As a result, U.S. immigration authorities resumed accepting requests to renew DACA permits, which provide recipients permission to live and work in the country.
Trump has proposed a 10- to 12-year track to citizenship for around 1.8 million younger immigrants protected by DACA or eligible for its guarantees. That's enraged GOP conservatives.
"The heartburn is the amnesty component," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, referring to Trump's offer of citizenship. He said that plan needs "a few adjustments that may be major" before it could pass the House.
Trump also wants $25 billion for border security including his prized wall, a campaign pillar he promised Mexico would finance. He would end a lottery used to encourage immigration from diverse countries including African nations and redistribute some of those visas to applicants with high-skilled jobs.
He would also limit relatives that immigrants could sponsor for legal U.S. status to spouses and minor children. He calls that "chain migration," a term immigration advocates find nearly as offensive as the idea of barring them from helping parents, siblings and other relatives.
"We will not reach agreement as long as he wants to attack the very underpinning of legal immigration. My sister is not a distant relative," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a hard-line pro-immigration advocate.
GOP lawmakers were also wary of changes Trump would make, such as potential curbs on visas that allow temporary agriculture or seasonal workers into the U.S.
"I favor legal immigration, I want to eliminate illegal immigration," said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. He said Trump's proposal was "a good first step" and added, "Let each of the two houses do their work."
The conservative-leaning Cato Institute has called Trump's proposals "draconian restrictions on legal immigrants" that would exclude nearly 500,000 legal immigrants annually, cutting their numbers by nearly 50 percent.
SIOUX CITY | Sioux City plans to replace the aging scoreboard and ribbon board inside the Tyson Events Center in the upcoming budget year.
The city's proposed capital improvements budget includes $900,000 designated for the replacement of the aging existing boards, which staff say have become difficult to maintain.
"It's getting to the point that we can't easily fix it, so if something breaks or something happens to it, it's not easy for us to find the replacement parts that we need to get it fixed," Erika Newton, the general manager of the Tyson and the Orpheum Theatre, told the City Council during a Jan. 20 budget study session.
Newton said the city plans to select the scoreboards with input from the Sioux City Musketeers and Sioux City Bandits, the hockey and indoor football teams that serve as the venue's primary tenants.
"I know (the Musketeers and Bandits) think that would really enhance the experience for some of their games, and it would make a huge improvement to just the feel and look of the building," Newton said.
City Manager Bob Padmore said the city plans to seek sponsors and naming rights to help the city foot the estimated $900,000 cost, but he said the city will work with the two teams to be sure it doesn't steal any of their current sponsors.
"We don't want to take away sales from them," Padmore said.
A timetable has not yet been set for the project.
The city next year also plans to add an electric door locking system at the Tyson, upgrade the kitchen and complete a handful of site repairs.
Future proposed upgrades at the Tyson include replacement of the outdoor fountain in the 2020 fiscal year and the addition of new suites and a destination club space in future budget years.
The city has been looking for ways to enhance the venue and make it more competitive with other venues in the region. In 2016, the city received a list of such projects from a study done by the consulting company Venue Solutions Group.
Beginning Jan. 1, the city placed the venue under the management of Spectra, a Philadelphia-based venue management company. The company plans to bring more shows to the two venues and plans to reduce the subsidy the city pays by $270,000 in its first year through increased sponsorship sales and increased event revenue.