Mil­lions could be sur­prised as their tax re­funds shrink

Av­er­age amount is down 8% from last year’s fig­ure

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD 2 - BY HEATHER LONG

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans filling out their 2018 taxes are likely to be sur­prised that their re­fund is smaller than ex­pected or that they owe money to the IRS af­ter years of re­ceiv­ing re­funds.

Peo­ple are al­ready tak­ing to so­cial me­dia to vent their anger, and many are blam­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Repub­li­cans for their shrink­ing re­fund, us­ing the hash­tag #GOPTaxS­cam. Some on Twit­ter have even said they voted for Trump but won’t do so again af­ter see­ing their re­fund slashed.

The up­roar comes af­ter Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans passed a ma­jor over­haul of the tax code in De­cem­ber 2017, the big­gest leg­isla­tive achieve­ment of the pres­i­dent’s first year. While the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans did get a tax cut in 2018, re­funds are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Some re­funds have de­creased be­cause of the changes in the tax code made by the law, such as a new limit on prop­erty and lo­cal in­come tax de­duc­tions, and some have de­creased be­cause of how the IRS has al­tered with­hold­ing in pay­checks.

John Prugh of Ewing Town­ship, N.J., was irate when he com­pleted his 2018 tax re­turn this month and dis­cov­ered his re­fund would be $3,000 less than what he re­ceived last year. Prugh con­sid­ers him­self “solidly mid­dle class.”

The 39-year-old is a man­ager at a Barnes & No­ble book­store, and his wife works for the state govern­ment. They have two chil­dren. Prugh said he had no rea­son to think their tax sit­u­a­tion would change this year, since he and his wife have lived in the same house for years and have re­ceived about the same pay in their jobs and have two kids.

“It to­tally feels like a scam,” Prugh said. “I did still get a small re­fund, but com­pared to what I was ex­pect­ing from pre­vi­ous years, it was shock.”

The av­er­age tax re­fund check is down 8 per­cent ($170) this year ver­sus last, the IRS re­ported Fri­day, and the num­ber of peo­ple re­ceiv­ing a re­fund has dropped by al­most a quar­ter.

A IRS spokesman said not to read much into this early data be­cause it only re­flects re­turns pro­cessed through Feb. 1, and the par­tial gov­ern- Na­tion & World briefs ............ Page B2

de­mands for more bor­der se­cu­rity, re­ferred to the dis­agree­ment in a tweet on Sun­day.

“I don’t think the Dems on the Bor­der Com­mit­tee are be­ing al­lowed by their lead­ers to make a deal. They are of­fer­ing very lit­tle money for the des­per­ately needed Bor­der Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on con­victed vi­o­lent felons to be held in de­ten­tion!” the pres­i­dent wrote.

Law­mak­ers had been trad­ing of­fers over how much money could go to bar­ri­ers along the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der, and were look­ing at a range be­tween $1.3 bil­lion and $2 bil­lion — far short of the $5.7 bil­lion Trump had de­manded. The White House had be­gun to sig­nal flex­i­bil­ity on that is­sue, even though Trump would end up with much less money than he sought, and the en­hanced fenc­ing or other bar­ri­ers agreed to by Congress would fall short of the 200-plus miles of steel walls he’d wanted.

But through­out the talks, Democrats had also been fo­cused on lim­it­ing ICE’s abil­ity to de­tain unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants, which has be­come a ma­jor is­sue for the party be­cause of their op­po­si­tion to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ag­gres­sive de­ten­tion tac­tics. The Democrats’ pro­posal in­cluded a new limit on de­ten­tion beds for im­mi­grants picked up not at the bor­der, but in the in­te­rior of the coun­try.

Democrats wanted to cap that num­ber at 16,500, which they said is around the level of in­te­rior de­ten­tions in the fi­nal years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Repub­li­cans pro­posed ex­clud­ing im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal records from the cap. But Democrats said that would make the cap tooth­less, be­cause it would amount to giv­ing ICE free rein to round up thou­sands of im­mi­grants with­out crim­i­nal records, on top of un­lim­ited num­bers of im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal con­vic­tions.

On MSNBC Sun­day af­ter­noon, Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., de­fended the Demo­cratic po­si­tion on bed space and ac­cused Repub­li­cans of mis­rep­re­sent­ing the facts.

“This news came from Repub­li­cans who have de­cided that their nar­ra­tive is go­ing to be that we’re try­ing to re­duce beds for vi­o­lent crim­i­nals, and that’s just not true,” Hill said.

Democrats, newly in con­trol of the House, have faced pres­sure from some lib­er­als in their ranks to draw a much harder line in their ne­go­ti­a­tions over the bor­der. Lib­er­als in­clud­ing Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have pro­posed en­tirely cut­ting fund­ing to ICE, and re­fus­ing any ad­di­tional money for bor­der bar­ri­ers what­so­ever.

Democrats on the bi­par­ti­san ne­go­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee have re­sisted those de­mands. But Repub­li­cans quickly seized on the new dis­pute over de­ten­tion beds to try to lump all Democrats in with the most lib­eral el­e­ments in the party.

“Now, ap­par­ently, not only is it enough they want to abol­ish ICE. They want to abol­ish the bed spa­ces avail­able to the coun­try to house vi­o­lent of­fend­ers, so they can be held and de­ported,” Sen. Lind­sey Graham, R-S.C., said on Fox News Chan­nel. “I prom­ise you this. Don­ald Trump is not go­ing to sign any bill that re­duces the num­ber of bed spa­ces avail­able to hold vi­o­lent of­fend­ers who come across our bor­der. He can’t do that. He won’t do that, and you can take that to the bank.”

The fight over how many im­mi­grants can be de­tained at once be­came prob­lem­atic in re­cent days, just as the White House be­gan sig­nal­ing to ne­go­tia­tors that it would be more flex­i­ble on how much money Congress ap­pro­pri­ated for a wall along the Mex­ico bor­der.

White House of­fi­cials have be­come in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent that by declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency, Trump will be able to re­di­rect bil­lions of dol­lars in other fed­eral fund­ing to be used for a wall or bar­ri­ers. One sce­nario they had pre­pared for was for Congress to pass a bill ap­pro­pri­at­ing some money for bor­der se­cu­rity and then us­ing the na­tional emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion to loosen even more funds.

This could draw le­gal chal­lenges from Democrats, landown­ers and other groups, but White House of­fi­cials and some ex­ter­nal ad­vis­ers have said it was the best way to pro­ceed.

A to­tal break­down in talks poses a new set of chal­lenges, how­ever. It dra­mat­i­cally in­creases the odds of an­other par­tial govern­ment shut­down be­gin­ning Satur­day. This would pre­vent roughly 800,000 fed­eral work­ers from be­ing paid in­def­i­nitely.

Dur­ing the last shut­down, which be­gan Dec. 22, the White House re­lied on hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral em­ploy­ees to con­tinue com­ing to work un­paid for more than a month in or­der for key govern­ment ser­vices to con­tinue, in­clud­ing Bor­der Pa­trol agents, Se­cret Ser­vice of­fi­cers, air­port screen­ers and air traf­fic con­trollers.

Many of the fed­eral em­ploy­ees, how­ever, re­fused to show up for work and called in sick, in­clud­ing air­port screen­ers and In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice of­fi­cers, and its un­clear what they would do if there’s an­other shut­down. The IRS is in the midst of tax fil­ing sea­son, and a ma­jor dis­rup­tion could have huge im­pli­ca­tions for the abil­ity of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to ob­tain tax re­funds in a timely fash­ion.

Cal­i­for­nia with­draw­ing some troops: Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som plans Mon­day to with­draw sev­eral hun­dred Na­tional Guard troops from the state’s south­ern bor­der with Mex­ico in de­fi­ance of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for sup­port from bor­der states.

About 100 of the 360 troops will re­main de­ployed un­der Cal­i­for­nia’s agree­ment with the fed­eral govern­ment to fo­cus specif­i­cally on com­bat­ing transna­tional crime such as drug and gun smug­gling, New­som spokesman Nathan Click said.

Specif­i­cally, they will be tasked with pro­vid­ing in­tel­li­gence on transna­tional crime and as­sist with cargo dock op­er­a­tions and searches of com­mer­cial trucks for con­tra­band.

New­som’s move comes on the heels of New Mex­ico Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham, also a Demo­crat, pulling back her state’s troops from the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. The two state’s for­mer gover­nors agreed to send troops to the bor­der last April at the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest along with Texas and Ari­zona.

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