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ANDREW HARNIK, ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves Federal District Court on Thursday in Washington.


Local
After last year's winter deluge, plenty of water still left for Magic Valley farmers

TWIN FALLS — Last winter’s erratic weather made life difficult for southern Idaho residents, but the Magic Valley is still reaping benefits from the abundance of moisture that fell from the skies.

The last water year was one of the best in the past decades, and carryover left in reservoirs at the end of the irrigation season remains high.

The Upper Snake Basin system is 75 percent full and reservoir levels are 180 percent of the 30-year average, said Corey Loveland, water operations manager for the Bureau of Reclamation in Heyburn.

“The dams are quite a bit higher than what we’re used to seeing,” Loveland said. Dams in the Upper Snake Basin include Jackson, Palisades, Island Park, Rirey, Minidoka, Milner, Little Wood and American Falls. Previous good years included 1986, ‘97 and 2011, he said.

Water managers track moisture levels from Oct. 1 — the end of the irrigation season — through the spring and into the growing season.

Even the Salmon Tract, notorious for water shortages, is in excellent shape going into the 2017-18 water year.

“It was a good year,” Karl Joslin, Salmon River Canal Co. board president, said Tuesday. “We had a full allotment.”

A full allotment promises farmers can stay in their normal crop rotation, and not have to rely on short-water crops like barley. Joslin will be growing corn silage, alfalfa and dry beans next year.

Last winter brought an abundance of snow to southern Idaho.

“We got a great start to the water year in October (2016),” said Stephen Parker, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boise. Twin Falls received 2.78 inches of precipitation that month, nearly 2 inches more than normal, followed by a warm and dry November. The winter continued to be wet through March.

Snow and cold were followed by rain and flooding this winter, creating havoc for motorists and homeowners, and livestock and roadways suffered.

For the water year, Twin Falls received nearly 15 inches of rain.

“Anytime we can start with this much water,” Joslin said Wednesday, “we are fortunate.”

The reservoirs won’t be able to store all the water that flows into them, said Brian Olmstead, Twin Falls Canal Co. general manager. Water manager need to save room behind the dams for flood control.

Aquifer recharge efforts in the off season have been successful, Olmstead said. Recharge will continue this winter at Murtaugh Lake, milepost 31 on the Milner-Gooding Canal, North Side Canal, and Southwest Irrigation District.

“It looks like the springs are starting to respond,” he said. “It’s a good start with the agreement with the groundwater users — that keeps everybody optimistic.”

Joslin agrees.

“We know now we can make plans. We know the water is there,” Joslin said. “We’re happy to be on this side of the equation.”


PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS FILE  

A road destroyed by floodwater sits closed Feb. 9 in Buhl. After a historic snowfall, warm weather caused an overabundance of water in the canal system. A breach near Buhl resulted in the displacement of several families. Flooding along Interstate 86 caused a 36-mile road closure for several days. ‘The damage to our roadways just from these winter events is right around $9.2 million,’ Twin Falls City Manager Travis Rothweiler said.


Washington
AP
Big GOP tax bill would cut rates — but also popular breaks

WASHINGTON — With fanfare and a White House kickoff, House Republicans unfurled a broad tax-overhaul plan Thursday that would touch virtually all Americans and the economy’s every corner, mingling sharply lower rates for corporations and reduced personal taxes for many with fewer deductions for home-buyers and families with steep medical bills.

The measure, which would be the most extensive rewrite of the nation’s tax code in three decades, is the product of a party that faces increasing pressure to produce a marquee legislative victory of some sort before next year’s elections. GOP leaders touted the plan as a sparkplug for the economy and a boon to the middle class and christened it the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“We are working to give the American people a giant tax cut for Christmas,” President Donald Trump said in the Oval Office. The measure, he said, “will also be tax reform, and it will create jobs.”

It would also increase the national debt, a problem for some Republicans. And Democrats attacked the proposal as the GOP’s latest bonanza for the rich, with a phase-out of the inheritance tax and repeal of the alternative minimum tax on the highest earners — certain to help Trump and members of his family and Cabinet, among others.

“If you’re the wealthiest 1 percent, Republicans will give you the sun, the moon and the stars, all of that at the expense of the great middle class,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

And there was enough discontent among Republicans and business groups to leave the legislation’s fate uncertain in a journey through Congress that leaders hope will deposit a landmark bill on Trump’s desk by year’s end.

Underscoring problems ahead, some Republicans from high-tax Northeastern states expressed opposition to the measure’s elimination of the deduction for state and local income taxes. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah called the House measure “a great starting point” but said it would be “somewhat miraculous” if its corporate tax rate reduction to 20 percent — a major Trump goal — survived. His panel plans to produce its own tax package in the coming days.

GOP lawmakers concede that if the tax measure collapses, their congressional majorities are at risk in next November’s elections.

The package’s tax reductions would outweigh its loophole closers by a massive $1.5 trillion over the coming decade. Many Republicans were willing to add that to the nation’s soaring debt as a price for claiming a resounding tax victory. But it was likely to pose a problem for others — one of several brushfires leaders will need to extinguish to get the measure through Congress.

Republicans must keep their plan’s shortfall from spilling over that $1.5 trillion line or the measure will lose its protection against Democratic Senate filibusters, bill-killing delays that take 60 votes to overcome. There are just 52 GOP senators and unanimous Democratic opposition is likely.

The bill would telescope today’s seven personal income tax brackets into just four: 12 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent and 39.6 percent.

The 25 percent rate would start at $45,000 for individuals and $90,000 for married couples.

The 35 percent rate would apply to family income exceeding $260,000 and individual income over $200,000, which means many upper-income families whose top rate is currently 33 percent would face higher taxes.

The top rate threshold, now $418,400 for individuals and $470,700 for couples, would rise to $500,000 and $1 million.

The standard deduction — used by people who don’t itemize, about two-thirds of taxpayers — would nearly double to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples. That’s expected to encourage even more people to use the standard deduction with a simplified tax form Republicans say will be postcard-sized.

Many middle-income families would pay less, thanks to the bigger standard deduction and an increased child tax credit. Republicans said their plan would save $1,182 in taxes for a family of four earning $59,000, but features like phase-outs of some benefits suggest their taxes could grow in the future.

“The plan clearly chooses corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers over teachers and police officers,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

One trade-off for the plan’s reductions was its elimination of breaks that millions have long treasured. Gone would be deductions for people’s medical expenses — especially important for families facing nursing home bills or lacking insurance — and their ability to write off state and local income taxes. The mortgage interest deduction would be limited to the first $500,000 of the loan, down from the current $1 million ceiling.

Led by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the authors retained the deductibility of up to $10,000 in local property taxes in a bid to line up votes from Republicans from the Northeast. The panel planned to begin votes on the proposal next Monday.

“It’s progress, but I want more,” said Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., who wants the entire property tax deduction restored.

Reduced to 25 percent would be the rate for many “pass-through” businesses, whose profits are taxed at the owners’ individual rate. But some of those companies would face higher rates.


Politics
Boise’s Balukoff seeks Democratic nomination for Idaho governor

BOISE — Idaho businessman Anthony Joseph “A.J.” Balukoff announced Thursday that he is running as a Democrat for governor in 2018, following an unsuccessful attempt nearly three years ago in the Republican-dominant Gem State.

Unlike his 2014 gubernatorial kickoff — which featured more than 20 of his children and grandchildren in front of a Boise elementary school near his home — Balukoff, 71, quietly filed paperwork to run for the top elected office with no formal campaign launch. Instead, Balukoff says he’s going to spend the new few weeks fundraising and organizing his campaign.

“We’re going to do something bigger later,” Balukoff said. “Now, we just want to follow the law as we get things started.”

Balukoff unsuccessfully ran for political office for the first time in 2014 as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate against Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Balukoff spent more than $3 million of his funds only to win nearly 39 percent of the vote to 54 percent for Otter. Balukoff’s willingness to throw such a hefty amount of his own money into his campaign raised eyebrows from some critics who argued he could have donated to other Democrats to help secure more winnable races.

All seven of Idaho’s statewide elected officials have hailed from the GOP since 2006. The last time Idaho voters elected a Democrat to the top seat was former Gov. Cecil Andrus in 1990. Andrus, who passed away earlier this year, served four non-consecutive terms in Idaho.

Balukoff has served on the Boise School Board since 1997 and works as an accountant and businessman who co-owns Boise’s Grove Hotel and the CenturyLink Arena. He is well-known for wearing bow ties and is a prominent member of the Mormon church.

So far, Balukoff has no major Democratic opponent in the upcoming May primary. The only other Democrat who has filed to run for the governor’s seat is Troy Minton, a homeless Boise man.

Meanwhile, three high-profile Republicans have filed as gubernatorial candidates: U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist.

Ahlquist contributed $5,000 to Balukoff’s campaign in 2014 — the maximum amount under Idaho’s campaign laws. Ahlquist has since said that he made the move out of friendship and later donated to Otter and voted for the Republican governor.

Otter has said he won’t run for a fourth term in 2018.


AP FILE PHOTO 

Balukoff


PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO  

Burley running back Alex Ramos is brought down by multiple Minico defenders Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, at Burley High School in Burley.


Crime-and-courts
Bergdahl judge begins deliberating on sentence

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A military judge on Thursday began deliberating the punishment for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after defense attorneys asked for no prison time while prosecutors sought more than a decade behind bars.

Army Col. Jeffery Nance said he planned to spend the afternoon considering evidence and would open court again Friday morning to continue deliberating then. It wasn’t clear when he would deliver the sentence.

Bergdahl faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009. In closing arguments, prosecutors asked for a sentence of 14 years in prison, citing serious wounds to service members who looked for Bergdahl.

“Sgt. Bergdahl does not have a monopoly on suffering as a result of his choices,” said Maj. Justin Oshana, a prosecutor. Contrasting Bergdahl to the wounded searchers, he added, “The difference is all the suffering stems from his choice.”

But defense attorneys argued Bergdahl already suffered enough confinement during five years of brutal captivity by Taliban allies. They asked the judge to give their client a dishonorable discharge and no prison time. Their argument for leniency also cited harsh campaign-trail criticism by Donald Trump and Bergdahl’s mental disorders.

“Justice is not rescuing Sgt. Bergdahl from his Taliban captors ... only to place him in a cell,” said Capt. Nina Banks, one of his defense attorneys.

Bergdahl pleaded guilty Oct. 16. The judge has wide discretion on sentencing because Bergdahl didn’t strike a deal with prosecutors to limit his punishment. A bad conduct or dishonorable discharge would deprive Bergdahl of most or all his veterans’ benefits.

The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, was brought home by President Barack Obama in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Obama said at the time the U.S. does not leave its service members on the battlefield. Republicans roundly criticized Obama, and Donald Trump went further while campaigning for president, repeatedly calling Bergdahl a traitor who deserved serious punishment.

During the multiday sentencing hearing, Bergdahl himself testified that he was sorry for the wounds suffered by searchers. He also described brutal beatings by his captors, illness brought on by squalid conditions and maddening periods of isolation. A psychiatrist testified that his decision to leave his post was influenced by a schizophrenia-like condition called schizotypal personality disorder that made it hard to understand consequences of his actions, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder brought on partly by a difficult childhood.

On Thursday, prosecutors cited Bergdahl’s own words to argue against the idea that his thinking was clouded, displaying on a courtroom monitor quotes from an initial investigation after he returned to the U.S. Bergdahl, who has said he walked off to cause alarm draw attention to problems with his unit, described to an investigating officer how he envisioned the missing soldier alert unfolding.

Bergdahl had said that the call goes “all the way up to Army command, it goes to Air Force, it goes to Marines. ... It goes to every high point and everybody finds out about it.”

Banks countered that even though Bergdahl’s decision was influenced by mental illness, he now takes responsibility and “stands before this court with a remorseful heart.”


Bergdahl


Local
Preliminary hearing delayed in baby murder case

Dunlap

TWIN FALLS — The preliminary hearing for a woman charged with the murder of her 20-month-old daughter has been delayed.

Amanda Jean Dunlap, 22, of Twin Falls was scheduled to come before Magistrate Judge Thomas Kershaw on Friday. She’s charged with first-degree murder, eight felony counts of injury to a child and one misdemeanor count of injury to a child in the Oct. 14 death of Lyryk Jean Altom.

“The defense wanted to have more time, so they asked for a continuance,” Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs said. “I never object to them asking for more time.”

A new date for the hearing has not been set, but the prelim will probably take place in the next three to six weeks. At a preliminary hearing the prosecutor is tasked with showing they have enough evidence to take the case to trial.

A call to the public defender’s office has not been returned.

According to a police statement issued Oct. 21, the baby was life-flighted to Boise after police responded to a call about a child in distress Oct. 8. She died about a week later.

The baby’s father, Logan Altom, previously told the Times-News that his daughter had a brain injury that led to her death.