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Survivors of Auschwitz arrive at the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism at the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp KL Auschwitz II-Birkenau walk to place candles on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Oswiecim, Poland, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)


Local
7 things to know before you file your tax returns

TWIN FALLS — Some tax return filers may receive an unpleasant surprise this year.

The deadline for filing your tax return is several months away, but state and federal employees will begin processing returns on Monday.

“A lot of people may be surprised that they may owe or have a smaller refund,” said Renee Eymann, spokeswoman for the Idaho Tax Commission. “For some it might be more dramatic than others.”

New tax laws and changes to withholding tables last spring meant that employees who didn’t file a new W-4 may have under-withheld from their wages for half the year. And if you don’t file a new federal and state W-4 soon, you could see a bigger impact on your 2019 return.

In past years, Idaho didn’t have a separate W-4 for the state taxes, Eymann said, but that’s since changed. The state Form ID W-4 is available at tax.idaho.gov.

“All of the changes, first of all, meant that we can no longer use the federal W-4,” Eymann said. “We’re just too different now.”

But many taxpayers haven’t gotten the message, creating a cash-flow problem for the state. According to the Post Register, overall general fund revenues for the first half of the fiscal year were down $101.6 million from the same time a year ago. It’s believed that’s the case largely because many taxpayers didn’t adjust their W-4s, so less money is being withheld.

A lot of people choose to over-withhold and use it as a sort of savings account, said Sandy Lapray, owner and tax preparer at Taxes by the Book. Lapray herself uses her returns for a vacation each year.

Despite the federal government shutdown, the Internal Revenue Service expects to process returns on time. Already, tax preparers are getting slammed with questions and appointments — and it’s only expected to get busier as the April 15 deadline approaches.

So far, Lapray isn’t seeing too many more people who have to owe money, but the refunds are sometimes smaller. One of Lapray’s clients had an income increase of only a couple thousand dollars, but his refund went from $480 in 2017 to $5 in 2018.

“He was really relieved he didn’t owe,” Lapray said.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

David Gabert looks over a W-4 form Tuesday at Taxes by the Book Inc., in Twin Falls.

Here are seven things you should know before filing your 2018 state and federal tax returns:

The personal exemption is gone

You used to be able to claim yourself as an exemption on your taxes, Lapray said. And that’s not all — dependency exemptions have also gone away. Those previously allowed someone to subtract $4,050 from their taxable income for themselves and each dependent in the household.

Now instead of an exemption, all you get is the standard deduction and credits, Lapray said.

“It makes a big difference,” she said.

The standard deduction almost doubled

The standard deduction has basically doubled, increasing to $12,000 for a single person, $18,000 for a head of household and $24,000 for those who are married and filing jointly.

“Because of the standard deduction going up, a lot of people won’t itemize,” Lapray said.

Idaho has a new child tax credit

This year, parents can claim a new child tax credit on their state income taxes. The credit is $205 per child younger than 17 years old. Additionally, the federal government increased its credit to $2,000.

Idaho taxpayers will also be able to deduct more when they adopt a child. That amount has changed from $3,000 to $10,000.

Some small businesses get a new deduction

The new Section 199A tax break allows qualifying businesses to deduct up to 20 percent of their profits as non-taxable income, Lapray said. This affects domestic businesses operated as a sole proprietorship or through a partnership, S corporation, trust or estate.

Income tax rates decreased

Idaho’s income tax rates decreased by .475 percent, with the highest rate now at 6.925 percent.

Employees can’t write off business expenses

Earlier rules allowed employees to claim unreimbursed business expenses — such as travel, supplies or uniforms — as a deduction on their tax returns. That’s no longer the case, and Lapray expects some truckers to be hit hard by the change.

How you can get help

Due to the shutdown, tax preparers are having a hard time getting assistance from the IRS for filing online. And the IRS was also not answering its phones to help consumers.

If you have questions about filling out the federal W-4 or ID W-4, visit tax.idaho.gov/w4. You can also get help with the state W-4 by calling 1-800-972-7660 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. The Idaho Tax Commission also has a field office at 440 Falls Ave., which is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

You can find information for filing your federal tax returns at irs.gov.


International
AP
Rivals Maduro and Guaido vie for Venezuelan military backing

CARACAS, Venezuela — The struggle for control of Venezuela turned to the military Sunday, as supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido handed leaflets to soldiers detailing a proposed amnesty law that would protect them for helping overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

At the same time, Maduro demonstrated his might, wearing tan fatigues at military exercises. Flanked by his top brass, Maduro watched heavy artillery fired into a hillside and boarded an amphibious tank.

Addressing soldiers in an appearance on state TV, Maduro asked whether they were plotting with the “imperialist” United States, which he accused of openly leading a coup against him.

“No, my commander-in-chief,” they shouted in unison, and Maduro responded: “We’re ready to defend our homeland — under any circumstance.”

The dueling appeals from the two rivals again put the military in the center of a global debate over who holds a legitimate claim to power in the South American nation.

The standoff has plunged Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil that already left more than two dozen dead as thousands took to the streets demanding Maduro step down.

It erupted when Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, declared before masses of supporters last week that he has temporarily assumed presidential powers, vowing to hold free elections and end Maduro’s dictatorship.

President Donald Trump and several foreign leaders quickly recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, prompting Maduro to cut ties with the U.S. and order its diplomats from Caracas within 72 hours. The U.S. defied him, saying Maduro isn’t the legitimate president, and Maduro relented, suspending the deadline for 30 days for the sake of opening a dialogue.

Venezuela’s crisis came before the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, which took no formal action because of divisions among members. Russia and China back Maduro. But France and Britain joined Spain and Germany in turning up the pressure on Maduro, saying they would recognize Guaido as president unless Venezuela calls a new presidential election within eight days.

“Where do you get that you have the power to establish a deadline or an ultimatum to a sovereign people?” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said. “It’s almost childlike.”

Venezuela’s armed forces remain the key to Maduro’s hold on power, firing tear gas and bullets on protesters, killing more than two dozen since Wednesday.

Guaido’s supporters made their case directly to soldiers on Sunday, handing them leaflets that urged they reject the socialist leader and explaining how they could be eligible for amnesty if they help return Venezuela to democracy.

In Paraiso, an area of Caracas where residents and the National Guard violently clashed, opposition lawmaker Ivlev Silva, his hands raised over his head, walked up to a line of soldiers wearing riot gear and holding shields.

“The people of Venezuela believe in each one of you,” Silva said, handing them the leaflets. Their commander responded that they were defending the Bolivarian revolution and support Maduro.

Similar scenes took place at military bases across Caracas, where one soldier burned his leaflet and another man threw a stack of them out a door, rejecting the opposition’s plea.

In claiming presidential powers, Guaido said he was acting in accordance with two articles of the constitution that give the National Assembly president the right to hold power temporarily and call new elections.

Emerging from Sunday Mass, where he honored those killed and arrested in the recent protests, Guaido called on the armed forces not to shoot fellow Venezuelans.

“We are waiting for you and the commitment you have to our constitution,” Guaido said. “Don’t shoot at those who have come out to defend your family, your work and livelihood.”

He also vowed to crack down on those responsible for the killings, which he called a “massacre,” saying in a Twitter post that he wanted to bring international attention to members of the armed forces, prosecutors and judges linked to the recent deaths.

The Trump administration has maintained that all options remain open if Maduro refuses to cede leadership, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I don’t think any president of any party who is doing his or her job would be doing the job properly if they took anything off the table,” he said. “So, I think the president of the United States is looking at this extraordinarily closely.”


Govt-and-politics
Idaho Republicans say you should know what party your city councilor belongs to

BOISE — Ballots in Idaho’s general elections name the political parties of candidates for federal, state and county offices. But municipal elections are nonpartisan. A move is afoot to change that.

The Idaho Republican Party wants the Legislature to make local elections partisan. Identifying candidates’ political parties on the ballot would help voters choose candidates whose values they share, party leaders say.

Democrats say the reforms are just designed to tip more elections in an already heavily Republican state further in the GOP’s favor.

Leading the GOP effort is Ryan Davidson, chairman of the Ada County Republican Party.

Davidson is controversial within the party. He started out in Idaho politics as a marijuana activist. In the early 2000s, he chaired the Idaho Libertarian Party. Later he founded Idahoans for Liberty, which helped defeat Gov. Butch Otter’s choice for state GOP chairman in 2008.

After Davidson became the county chair last year, two of the three incumbents in west Boise’s all-Republican legislative District 15 blamed him in part for the November election defeat of two of the incumbents by Democrats and for the razor-thin margin of victory for the third.

Davidson pressed the partisan-election case at a state GOP meeting last June in Pocatello. “The Democrats have absolutely, 100 percent, captured the city of Boise,” he said then, according to the Idaho State Journal.

In a video, Davidson said Democrats have stolen elections in Boise, and the Democratic Party has manipulated the nonpartisan system to gain power without having to disclose its candidates’ party identity.

He cited a 2017 Idaho Statesman article about Democrats deciding to regroup and focus on local races after the 2016 election cost them four seats in the Legislature.

“In nonpartisan races, when we’re not saddled with the ‘D,’ when we are able to run on our values, we have tremendous success in elections,” Rep. Mat Erpelding, Idaho’s House minority leader, told The Statesman at the time.

Davidson said that is evidence of the Democratic strategy. “They are admitting they have to hide the fact they are Democrats to get elected,” he said.

November’s losses contributed to a sense among both Democrats and Republicans that Ada County has turned purple. This year, Democrats flipped two of the three seats on the Republican-held Ada County Commission, as well as the two house seats in District 15. Every district wholly within Boise elected only Democratic state legislators, although those on the edge that encompass areas outside the city remained red.

Davidson has yet to line up a legislator to introduce a bill. He said Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, may sponsor one. DeMordaunt did not respond to several requests for comment over email and voicemail and to her secretary.

Making party alignment clear helps voters make informed decisions, Davidson said. “City councils deal with laws every bit as controversial as the Legislature,” he told the Statesman in an interview.

Local city council members, even Republicans, do not all share Davidson’s enthusiasm for the change. Several city council members from Nampa, Meridian and Boise said they don’t see the work they do at the local level falling within partisan lines.

“As a city councilman, I have been elected to represent everyone of every party of every affiliation,” said Nampa City Councilman Victor Rodriguez, a Republican, in a phone interview.

Boise City Council member Holli Woodings, the 2014 Democratic nominee for secretary of state, asked, “Is this something that voters really want, or is this a partisan solution in search of a problem?”

Sometimes, though, even nonpartisan city councils find themselves confronting issues that tend to be partisan on a national level. For instance, the Nampa, Meridian, and Boise councils have considered adding ordinances to protect LGBT citizens from discrimination, a cause generally favored by Democrats nationally but sometimes resisted by Republicans. Ordinances have passed in Boise and Meridian but not in Nampa.

And each year they consider whether to raise taxes — a decision that often signals party ideology, said Meridian City Council Vice President Luke Cavener, a Republican, in an interview.

“Tax policy is tied with the national party,” Cavener said. “The Republican Party is associated with fiscal conservatism.”

Cavener said he is undecided about partisan elections. “If making them partisan benefits the voter I’m open to learning more, but there is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up trash,” he said.

By making elections partisan, candidates who might not have the funds to run alone could access party resources and networks, allowing more people to enter a race, Davidson said. City council members interviewed by the Statesman said they sometimes have made use of Democratic or Republican networks or email lists but have not typically received money from the parties.

Frank Terraferma, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, stands by the proposal. “It’s not a question of advantaging a party but getting people this information,” he said.

The nonpartisan nature of municipal elections is a legacy of the Progressive era, which saw a variety of reforms meant to combat the one-party rule in cities. Those reforms also saw many cities move their municipal elections from November to the spring, to encourage voters to select individual candidates rather than voting for their party down the ballot.

While Davidson said partisan elections would make the elections more honest, that was the same reason Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson gave in advocating the nonpartisan model a century ago. Both presidents rose to power on a Progressive wave in American politics. The National League of Cities says three quarters of U.S. cities use nonpartisan elections.

Questions remain about what partisan local elections would look like. Would there be primaries? A resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party in June called for them, but Davidson said he is still working out what the final changes could look like.

Jackie Groves, chair of the Ada County Democrats, noted that in cities where one party dominates, the election would effectively play out in the primary, “disenfranchising the minority.”


If you do one thing

If you do one thing: Toddler Time activities will begin at 10:30 a.m. and a children’s singalong will be held at 4 p.m. at Twin Falls Public Library, 201 Fourth Ave. E. Free.


PAT SUTPHIN TIMES-NEWS 

Hazen Smith rests in between rounds Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, during the 42nd annual CSI Cowboy and Cowgirl Boxing Smoker at the Eldon Evans Expo Center in Twin Falls.


Local
Twin Falls considers building more sediment ponds near Auger Falls park

TWIN FALLS — City staff would like to construct some additional sediment removal ponds near the Auger Falls recreation area.

The Twin Falls City Council on Monday will consider a request to use city property to construct a series of ponds atop the canyon rim and near the Auger Falls recreation parking area. These ponds would add capacity to others that are used to collect and filter canal water. 

The city will plant native grasses around the ponds to help rehabilitate a wetland area. The ponds attract different kinds of wildlife to the area, city spokesman Joshua Palmer said.

Originally, the ponds were used to dispose of potato waste by Idaho Frozen Foods. They were abandoned by the company in the early 1980s.

Twin Falls is a member of the Southern Idaho Waster Quality Coalition — a partnership that works to identify, manage and increase water quality in the Mid-Snake River. The coalition has applied for federal grant money to construct the sediment reduction ponds. The property would remain in the city’s ownership and control if the project is approved by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Twin Falls Canal Co. would provide construction service for the ponds.

The City Council meets at 5 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 203 Main Ave. E. Also at the meeting, the Council will:

  • Receive a reimbursement from Jacobs Engineering Group in the amount of $207,001 from operational expenses at the wastewater treatment facility.
  • Confirm the appointments of Jay Reis, Scott Standley and Taylor Marecle to the Building Safety Department Advisory Committee.
  • Receive a presentation on the city of Twin Falls quarterly financials.

Editor's Note: This story was edited from an earlier version, which incorrectly stated the ponds would filter water from the city's wastewater treatment plant. The Times-News was provided with incorrect information.


National
AP
Trump sets odds of reaching deal on wall at less than 50-50

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that the odds congressional negotiators will craft a deal to end his border wall standoff with Congress are "less than 50-50."

As hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers prepared to return to work, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn't think the negotiators will strike a deal that he'd accept. He pledged to build a wall anyway using his executive powers to declare a national emergency if necessary.

"I personally think it's less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board," Trump said in an interview with the newspaper.

The president was referring to a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers that will consider border spending as part of the legislative process.

The president's standoff with Democrats on Capitol Hill is far from over and the clock is ticking. The spending bill Trump signed on Friday to temporarily end the partial government shutdown funds the shuttered agencies only until Feb. 15.

It's unclear if the Democrats will budge. Trump seemed girded for battle over the weekend, sending out a series of online messages that foreshadowed the upcoming fight with lawmakers. "BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!" he tweeted.

Is Trump prepared to shut down the government again in three weeks?

"Yeah, I think he actually is," acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said. "He doesn't want to shut the government down, let's make that very clear. He doesn't want to declare a national emergency."

But Mulvaney said that at "the end of the day, the president's commitment is to defend the nation and he will do it with or without Congress."

The linchpin in the standoff is Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for his prized wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.

Asked if he'd willing to accept less than $5.7 billion to build a barrier on the southern border, Trump replied: "I doubt it." He added: "I have to do it right."

He also said he'd be wary of any proposed deal that exchanged funds for a wall for broad immigration reform. And when asked if he would agree to citizenship for immigrants who were illegally brought into the U.S. as children, he again replied, "I doubt it."

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leading Republican in the House, said Democrats have funded border barriers in the past and are refusing this time simply because Trump is asking for it.

"The president is the only one who has been reasonable in these negotiations," he said.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, said his colleagues are looking for "evidence-based" legislation.

"Shutdowns are not legitimate negotiating tactics when there's a public policy disagreement between two branches of government," he said.

Jeffries said Democrats are willing to invest in additional infrastructure, especially at legal ports of entry where the majority of drugs come into the country.

"We're willing to invest in personnel. We're willing to invest in additional technology. ... In the past, we have supported enhanced fencing and I think that's something that's reasonable that should be on the table," he said.

Trump has asserted there is a "crisis" at the southern border requiring a wall, blaming previous presidents and Congress for failing to overhaul an immigration system that has allowed millions of people to live in the U.S. illegally.

Last month, he put that number at 35 million, while on Sunday he pegged it at 25.7 million-plus — figures offered without evidence. "I'm not exactly sure where the president got that number this morning," Mulvaney said.

Both are higher than government and private estimates.

His homeland security chief cited "somewhere" between 11 million and 22 million last month. In November, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported 10.7 million in 2016 — the lowest in a decade.

The president also tweeted Sunday that the cost of illegal immigration so far this year was nearly $19 billion; he didn't cite a source.

Compare that with research in 2017 from a conservative group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for less immigration: $135 billion a year or about $11.25 billion a month — a figure that included health care and education, plus money spent on immigration enforcement.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. said that he thinks a compromise is possible.

"The president went from talking about a wall along the entire southern border at one point during the campaign ... to let's have barriers where they work and let's have something else where barriers wouldn't work as well," Blunt said.

The partial federal shutdown ended Friday when Trump gave in to mounting pressure, retreating from his demand that Congress commit to the border wall funding before federal agencies could resume work. The bill he signed did not provide the money Trump wanted for a barrier, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called "immoral" and has insisted Congress will not finance.

Mulvaney said Trump agreed to temporarily end the shutdown because some Democrats have stepped forward, publicly and privately, to say they agree with Trump's plan to better secure the border.

Mulvaney said they told Trump they couldn't split with Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer or work with the White House if the government remained closed.

"Everybody wants to look at this and say the president lost," Mulvaney said. "We're still in the middle of negotiations."