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Rep. Rod Blum, left, listens Friday as Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks during a campaign stop at the HiRail plant in Lisbon, Iowa.

LISBON, Iowa — Two Iowa Republican members of Congress voiced support Friday for extending or making permanent a tax credit that encourages short-line railroads to invest in infrastructure and safety improvements that create jobs in the transportation and manufacturing industries.

“I was chairman of the Finance Committee when this was approved, so obviously I want to see it continue,” Sen. Chuck Grassley told about two dozen people during a visit to the HiRail plant, which manufactures railroad grade crossing surfaces from recycled rubber material.

The tax credit is a priority for Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association, which represents companies like HiRail that manufacture railroad maintenance equipment, products and services, according to Jacob Carter, the association’s government affairs manager. It has 56 sponsors in the Senate and 262 in the House.

Denny Miller of Iowa Interstate Railroad explained that short lines get a 50 percent tax credit of up to $3,500 a mile.

Unlike highways that are heavily subsidized, “railroads own the property and bear the cost of maintaining it,” Miller said.

The 10-year-old tax credit, he said, was a “real turnaround” for railroad investment in their tracks and bridges.

The improvements, such as a $14 million bridge replacement on Iowa Interstate’s line near Des Moines, allow short lines to carry heavier freight faster and more safely, Miller said.

With railroads carrying more volatile freight, such as ethanol, the improvements take on added importance.

Extending the tax credit or, better yet, making it permanent, would remove uncertainty for short lines that want to invest in upgrades, 1st District Rep. Rod Blum told the HiRail employees and community members.

It would be consistent with what congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump are trying to do to grow the economy, he said.

“It’s not rocket science. Reduce regulations. Reduce the corporate tax. Get the government out of your pocket and off your back and the economy will grow,” said Blum, who is in a tight race for re-election in the 1st Congressional District. “Uncertainty is the biggest enemy of expansion.”

A spokeswoman for Blum’s opponent, state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, called it “pretty rich to hear Rod Blum talk about uncertainty hurting economic growth in this state.”

“Just a few weeks ago he was thanking Donald Trump for starting a trade war on Twitter that will cost Iowa’s economy $2.2 billion,” Kate Waters said.

Blum also called for changes to get more people into the workforce, including legal immigration, as a way to reduce poverty and meet the demand for more workers.

“We can’t be a nation of rich and poor,” he said. “We’ve got to have a strong middle class.”

Waters said Blum’s priority, however, has been wealthy corporate donors, “which he’s consistently put ahead of working families.”

“He’s voted to cut taxes for corporations and the richest 1 percent of Americans — including himself — blowing a $1.9 trillion hole in the deficit to do it and putting Medicare and Social Security at risk.”

In addition to the tax credit, Blum and Grassley heard from Matt Bell of the National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association about the burden of overregulation.

Specifically, he told Blum and Grassley about regulations that would require short lines and contractors working on short lines to submit manuals, training materials and logs to federal agencies.

“We’re already a safe industry,” Bell said. “This would cost small business a lot because they would have to hire people to do the paperwork.”

He didn’t get an argument from Grassley and Blum, who said under the Trump administration, 22 regulations have been removed for every new regulation.

Blum noted he’s co-sponsoring the REINS Act — Regulations from the Executive Need for Scrutiny — that would require a congressional vote on any regulations that would cost the private sector $100 million or more to comply.

Overall, Grassley and Blum credited deregulation and the Trump tax bill have created an environment “for this economy to turn around.”

“We had eight years of every day a new tax, every day more spending,” Grassley said about the Obama administration. “When you don’t know what the government is going to do to screw you, you don’t take the risk, you don’t create jobs.”

The nation doesn’t need higher taxes, Grassley said. “We need more taxpayers.”

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Business Editor/Night City Editor