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News Analysis: November 1, 2007

posted on November 1, 2007 at 6:01 PM

Closer to the edge of the news, a controversial, some say goofy, tax has been revoked, by administrative fiat. Meanwhile, the Regents have made some controversial choices of their own about who could actually own the names of prominent campus institutions and who could carry arms.

The story that is lingering, though, is the residue of a spectacular fire this week. The blaze was near Des Moines, and David Pitt of the “Associated Press” is with us to provide some insight that might be worrisome to some people of the state.

Yeager: David, this is a fire that could be seen. It was at a place called Barton Solvents, a fire that could be seen for a long period of places. A lot of people had concern about that. Should they have had concern about it, and are they still today?

Pitt: Well, it appears the authorities are saying that it was a dangerous fire but, fortunately, no one was injured seriously in the fire. I think they're turning now to the investigation of what might have happened. Barton Solvents has plants in two other locations in Iowa and in two other states, in Bettendorf and in Council Bluffs, and I think the investigators have also turned their sights to those plants to see how they may be dealing with these chemicals there and working with them to see if they could kind of determine what happened in Des Moines and make sure that it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

Yeager: And this is something this company has held frequent press briefings during the fire, the day after. They even held one earlier today. This is a company that doesn't seem to be running from anything. Have we had any concern with this company in the past or anything we need to look out for in the future?

Pitt: Well, the company seems to be working with authorities, and there was an incident similar to this in a plant they also own in Kansas, so I think the same investigator from a federal agency that is investigating that fire is also investigating the Des Moines fire.

But I think all signs are that the company has been very outspoken and forward about what's happening. It's a privately-held company owned by a family, and they're saying they're going to do everything they can, obviously, for safety reasons to try to figure out what happened here. They're turning their sights toward the possibility of a static electrical spark that may have caused this very flammable and volatile chemical to catch fire.

Yeager: Some say the biggest fire they've seen in Des Moines for quite some time, or ever for that matter. There was another fire of sorts, at least a firestorm around the Regents. The Board of Regents met yesterday, and they were taking up three issues and one was one they had put off from a week before. They were talking about arming security guards on campus. They also raised tuition and they also talked about naming rights. Which one was the biggest?

Pitt: I think the one that has captured the public's attention most is the firearms issue, because I think it's something that’s been kind of discussed publicly at university campuses. And in Iowa I think the rule was forty years ago -- I mean it's been forty years since they've allowed guns on campuses in the state.

It looks as though it's going to happen now, and the University of Iowa and Iowa State say within a few weeks, yet this month, they will probably have their security guards armed. UNI will take a little bit longer. It looked like the faculty at two of the state universities, University of Iowa and Iowa State.

UNI had a little bit of resistance there, but students seem to be in favor, although there are always a few that might not be. But it seemed to be something that there was some momentum toward arming the security guards.

Yeager: Chairman Gartner was upset about that issue. He was also upset about tuition. He was against the tuition raises. He wanted 2 percent and it ended up at a little over 3 percent. Why the increase?

Pitt: Well, they look at it every year, it seems, and the university presidents were saying at 2 percent, which is what the board president, Michael Gartner, wanted, the presidents of the university said that's just barely enough to keep up with the increasing costs.

Yeager: And they're talking about what they want to do is not seem that we're just raising tuition every year; they're trying to send that message, it appears at the onset.

Pitt: Right. And this past year Gartner was making the point that the legislature gave the full funding to the universities, so I think he was trying to say let's keep it to 2 percent if we can. The board disagreed.

Yeager: Quickly, can you tell me about naming rights and why that was significant? It was involved over Wellmark.

Pitt: Right. Naming rights have been an issue for quite some time as well, and I think that the board just basically decided that anyone who wants to donate money to the university, we have to look at that very carefully. We have to make sure there are no conflicts, there will be no undue pressure put on the university for any reason. They'll look at them all the same, and commercial entities don't get any more scrutiny than anyone else.

Yeager: And there’s one other thing I want to talk about, and this is something that I was pretty much planning to ignore. I just read it and laughed about a pumpkin tax, but then the governor went out and said a statement about it last night. What is the pumpkin tax and why do we care?

Pitt: Well, it looks like last December the department of revenue decided they were going to tax pumpkins on the theory that pumpkins are an edible product, that it's food. And so they wanted to tax it because, you know, a lot of people use pumpkins as decorations too. So the governor decided that it wasn't an appropriate tax, and he basically said we're not going to do this, and I think he even used the word "ridiculous" pumpkin tax, I think he called it in his press release.

Yeager: It was the only -- it was his treat. You didn't have to go to Terrace Hill. He just gave a treat to everybody.

Pitt: Apparently so.

Tags: Iowa news