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Workforce, infrastructure top Siouxland delegation's lobbying list

SIOUX CITY -- The need for more skilled workers across Siouxland will once again be a top issue for a delegation of nearly 60 local leaders heading to Washington, D.C., this week. 

Representatives of metro Sioux City businesses, schools and local governments will meet with members of Congress and cabinet members Wednesday and Thursday to discuss a range of topics that will also include infrastructure funding, housing, and the potential effects that new tariffs will have on the tri-state region.

With the region's unemployment remaining very low, employers continue to struggle in the search for qualified applicants, said Barbara Sloniker, executive vice president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, which leads the 64th annual two-day lobbying excursion.

"A lot of (businesses) want to expand, and they have trouble finding people. And then sometimes it's not just finding people, but it's finding people that have the skills," Sloniker said. "We need to figure out how to get people here, how to get them trained and help our businesses grow." 

Sloniker said related issues include education and housing programs, such as continued support of Community Development Block Grants and Home Investment Partnership program.

"We need funding of those programs on a federal level to be sustainable," she said. "We've heard that there's a lack of affordable workforce housing." 

Along with senators and representatives from the tri-state area, the delegation will meet with Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. 

Meetings also will include Department of Transportation under secretary Derek Kan and Bill Northey, the former Iowa ag secretary who now serves as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's under secretary of agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services. 

Members of the delegation representing the city of Sioux City will arrive a day early and meet with senators and representatives from Iowa on Tuesday, as well as the American Public Works Association. 

City Manager Bob Padmore said among the city's points of emphasis will be infrastructure issues that have close ties to Siouxland projects. 



"The president has talked a lot about our aging interstate and other federal highways," he said. "(We're) just trying to find out more what that could mean to Sioux City and the region as far as what kind of grants or aid we can expect to see to improve funding for those things."

Among the position papers from the city will be a request for full funding of permit reviews by federal agencies, an issue felt by Sioux City after lack of funding led to continued delays of the approval of a permit required for a re-decking project on the Military Road Bridge stretching from Riverside into North Sioux City. The delay means that the $6 million project will be pushed back at least until next year.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file 

The Military Road bridge over the Big Sioux River is shown looking north into North Sioux City. A re-decking project on the bridge continues to be delayed as the city awaits approval of a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The city also will share a request that government aid for utilities, such as water and sewer lines, be included in the infrastructure program. Sioux City is currently responsible for paying millions in relocation costs for the Interstate 29 reconstruction project.

The delegation also will push for the continued funding of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) and Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant programs, the former of which appears to be on the chopping block in the proposed infrastructure spending bill. 

The city has long hoped to leverage a large federal grant to construct a viaduct on 18th Street spanning railroad tracks. 

The city's delegation will include Councilmen Dan Moore and Alex Watters and several city staff members.

Sloniker said she also hopes to hear more about the anticipated effects of Chinese tariffs on U.S. soybeans, pork, beef and ethanol in retaliation for the Trump administration's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Iowa is the nation's leading producer of pork and soybeans.



Time to do your taxes
Last-minute tax filers have two extra days to finish their returns this year

SIOUX CITY -- For more than 30 years, Frank Gray served as Sioux City's city treasurer.

Now retired, he still finds himself crunching numbers.

Gray is one of the approximately 50 volunteers offering free tax services for people making $53,000 or less through the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the Center for Siouxland.

"I got involved in the program two years ago after hearing (VITA director) Lori (Scott) talk about it on the radio," Gray said, inside the organization's 715 Douglas St. offices. "I've been hard at work ever since."

The center assists about 1,500 people, annually, with their returns.

April 15 is normally the final day U.S. filers must submit their returns and pay Uncle Sam. However, due to April 15 being on a Sunday and the Washington D.C. Emancipation Day holiday being observed on Monday, procrastinators have a few extra days to get their taxes done.

You now have until Tuesday, April 17, to file your federal income tax forms without having to pay a penalty. State tax returns in Nebraska also must be filed by Tuesday, while Iowans have until April 30 to file their state returns. South Dakotans don't have to worry about this because the Rushmore State is one of the few in the country that doesn't have an income tax.

About 2 in 10 Americans wait until the very last minute to file their federal returns.

"Tax preparers are busy at the start of the season before hitting a bit of a lull," Gray explained. "For the final week, we're just swamped."

Gray said some people simply put things off to the last minute. Liberty Tax Services tax preparer Kristi Kranz said other reasons may be at play.

"A person might have issue getting a particular form from an employer," she explained. "Or sometimes, a person owes money and doesn't see the need to pay earlier than necessary." 

Like Gray, Kranz said the final days of the season will also be "crunch time" at the 1321 Nebraska St. tax preparation service location.

For on-the-fly filers, be sure to bring valid photo IDs, Social Security cards, copies of last year's tax returns or a transcript, proof of income and interest statements, and bank information for direct deposit when getting your taxes done.    

Even if you can't make the deadline, all isn't lost. You can file for a free extension through or by using the paper form 4868.

"Don't worry," Gray said. "We'll be available after April 17."

Monday’s Briefing

Bankers, lawyers cash in on Prince estate

MINNEAPOLIS — As the second anniversary of Prince's death approaches, the rock star's heirs have yet to collect a dollar of his estimated $200 million estate. But bankers, lawyers and consultants have earned millions from it.

The long saga to settle the estate provides a cautionary tale about what can happen when someone dies without leaving a will — as Prince did when he died of an accidental opioid overdose at his Paisley Park studio April 21, 2016 — and the heirs can't quit squabbling.

Even though it's been nearly two years since Prince died, the executor, Comerica Bank and Trust, can't split the money among Prince's six surviving siblings until the Internal Revenue Service approves. It's not clear when that might happen.

A hearing on several highly contentious issues is scheduled for Wednesday.

Bon Jovi, Nina Simone make it into Rock Hall

CLEVELAND — Bon Jovi reunited onstage with former members for a powerful performance celebrating its admission into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the late icon Nina Simone was welcomed to the prestigious music club with show-stopping performances from Lauryn Hill and Andra Day.

Bon Jovi's portion of the four-hour-plus event ran an hour-long Saturday night, with Jon Bon Jovi giving a lengthy 20-minute speech onstage. He said he had been writing the speech for years.

"Some days I write the 'Thank you' speech, sometimes I write the '(Expletive) you' speech," he said. "In the end, it's all about time. It took a lot of people to get us here tonight."

Other 2018 inductees were The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

-- Associated Press

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Briar Cliff's Jackson Lenoir hits the ball against Ottawa's Ike Nwachie during a volleyball game in Sioux City.


US to hit Russia with new sanctions for aiding Syria's Assad (copy)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase "Mission Accomplished" to describe a U.S.-led missile attack on Syria's chemical weapons program, even as his aides stressed continuing U.S. troop involvement and plans for new economic sanctions against Russia for enabling the government of Bashar Assad.

Stepping up the pressure on Syria's president, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated the sanctions, to be announced today, would be aimed at sending a message to Russia, which she said has blocked six attempts by the U.N. Security Council to make it easier to investigate the use of chemical weapons.

"Everyone is going to feel it at this point," Haley said, warning of consequences for Assad's foreign allies.

"The international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life," she said. "The fact he was making this more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop."

Trump tweeted Sunday that the strike was "perfectly carried out" and that "the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished.'" He added that he knew the media would "seize" on the phrase, but said it should be used often. "It is such a great Military term, it should be brought back," he wrote.

Trump tweeted "Mission Accomplished" on Saturday after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. While he declared success, the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a "Mission Accomplished" banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.

Later Sunday, Trump sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them in writing of his decision to order the strike. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must keep Congress informed of such actions.

Haley made clear the United States won't be pulling troops out of Syria right away, saying U.S. involvement there "is not done."

Haley said the three U.S. goals for accomplishing its mission are making sure chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. national interests, defeating the Islamic State group and having a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

"We're not going to leave until we know we've accomplished those things," she said.

Haley said the joint military strike "put a heavy blow into their chemical weapons program, setting them back years" and reiterated that if Assad uses poison gas again, "the United States is locked and loaded."

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that France wants to launch a diplomatic initiative over Syria that would include Western powers, Russia and Turkey. Speaking on French television BFM and online site Mediapart, Macron stressed that the French diplomacy is able to talk with Iran, Russia and Turkey on one side and to the United States on the other side.

He said, "Ten days ago, President Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain."

Asked about Macron's comments, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders stressed that Trump's plans for the region have not changed. In a statement, she said: "The U.S. mission has not changed — the President has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible."

The nighttime assault on Syria was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, "Before we took action, the United States communicated with" Russia to "reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties."

Russia has military forces, including air defenses, in several areas of Syria to support Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.

Russia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its French and British allies a "military crime" and "act of aggression." The U.N. Security Council rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the "aggression" by the three Western allies.

Assad denies he has used chemical weapons, and the Trump administration has yet to present hard evidence of what it says precipitated the allied missiles attack: a chlorine gas attack on civilians April 7 in Douma. The U.S. says it suspects that sarin gas also was used.

"Good souls will not be humiliated," Assad tweeted while hundreds of Syrians gathered in Damascus, the capital, where they flashed victory signs and waved flags in scenes of defiance after the early morning barrage.

The strikes "successfully hit every target," said Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons "bunker" a few miles from the second target.

Meanwhile, The leaders of Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon said Sunday that Western airstrikes on their ally, Syria, have complicated prospects for a political settlement to the country's seven-year conflict.

A day after the U.S., Britain and France bombarded sites they said were linked to a chemical weapons program, Assad appeared briefly on state TV, seemingly unfazed by the military action — and even reportedly in high spirits.

Assad told a group of visiting Russian lawmakers that the strikes were accompanied by a campaign of "lies and misinformation" against Syria and Russia in the U.N. Security Council.

Moscow and Damascus are waging the same "battles" against terrorism and "to protect international law based on respect of the sovereignty of countries and the wills of people," Assad said in comments carried by state media, an apparent jab at the three Western allies.