Gaines Gazette: September 1, 2016

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Take My Transportation Survey!

Senator Gaines reads through piles of responses from his recent transportation-related survey.
Senator Gaines reads through piles of responses from his recent transportation-related survey.

California’s gas taxes are the fifth-highest in the nation and that money pays for new roads and road improvements. This state should have some of the best infrastructure in the country.

California’s road conditions rank sixth-worst in the country. The combination of high taxes and terrible roads exemplifies the government’s extreme mismanagement of funds and runaway costs. It all adds up to Californians being taken for a bumpy ride by a government that should be providing a world-class infrastructure for the money that drivers are already paying at the pump.

  • A billion dollars a year in truck “weight fees” are also supposed to pay for roads, but that money is being diverted into the unaccountable general fund.
  • The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that CalTrans is overstaffed by 3,500 positions, wasting about $500 million a year that could go to repairing roads and cutting down traffic.
  • The governor’s High-Speed Rail project is going to cost taxpayers more than a hundred billion dollars to build, money that won’t cut down congestion or fix a single pothole.

Now the governor and the legislative majority want to “solve” this problem by raising more taxpayer money. Do you think California’s transportation problems should be solved by raising taxes?

To make sure your voice is heard and your ideas understood, please take the time to answer this transportation-related survey. Your opinion is important. If you have any questions or need additional information, please call one of my Constituent Service Centers in El Dorado Hills at (916) 933-7213 or in Redding at (530) 224-7001.

I appreciate your participation!

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Bill To Keep Drones Out Of Emergency Zones On Governor’s Desk

I’m proud to announce that my bill to keep drones out of emergency zones – Senate Bill 807 – passed out of the Legislature and is now with Governor Brown. The Governor has until September 30 to sign or veto all bills sent to him by the Legislature.

To think that someone would interfere with firefighting or emergency response situations to get a sneak peek or to post a drone video on YouTube is an outrage. I’m pleased that my legislative colleagues agreed, and I am hopeful for the Governor’s support of this critical bill.

Senate Bill 807 will grant civil immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations. The bill stems from alarming reports of private, unauthorized drones causing mission-critical aircraft to be grounded during firefighting and medical response operations, putting pilots, firefighters, civilians and property at unnecessary risk. 

I believe drones hold great promise for wildfire suppression and other emergency services when used properly by public safety, but do not want rogue drones to interfere with the most effective response to time-sensitive crises.

We are in the middle of California’s dangerous wildfire season, and I want everyone to know that interfering with firefighting or other emergency activities is reckless and wrong. Let’s get the word out as far and wide as we can – immediately – to help keep our people and emergency personnel safe. This bill will help ensure our skies are protected. People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life. Public safety should be our absolute number one priority.

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Honoring Red Cross Volunteer

Senator Gaines and Assemblywoman Gaines thank Red Cross volunteers with Certificates of Recognition.
Senator Gaines and Assemblywoman Gaines thank Red Cross volunteers with Certificates of Recognition.

It was an honor to host a reception to express my appreciation and to personally thank the American Red Cross volunteers who served as the “boots on the ground” during the recent Trailhead Fire. Each volunteer was presented with a Senate Certification of Recognition for their service.

The Trailhead Fire burned for more than two weeks this summer in Placer and El Dorado counties, scorching more than 5,500 acres. At the peak of the fire, 2,600 homes were threatened and over a thousand people were ordered to evacuate.

The American Red Cross helped establish two evacuation shelters for residents and animals affected by the Trailhead Fire. Volunteers worked around the clock to ensure that families had an immediate, safe place to go. Their disaster teams stood at the ready to provide lodging, meals, water, hygiene items, health services and comfort for anyone impacted by the fire. As evacuations were lifted, volunteers also assisted with damage assessments and distributed cleaning supplies to residents.

The American Red Cross volunteers continue to assist other communities throughout California that are being ravaged by wildfires this summer. The organization provides shelter, food and emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission.

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Criticizing High Speed Rail Bill

During the last week of session, the Senate passed Assembly Bill 1889 (Mullin), which allows bond money to be spent on High Speed Rail-related projects without certification by an independent consultant.

High Speed Rail is shaping up to be the most colossal waste of taxpayer money in the history of California. Now we have this bill that is going to spend the bond money in a way that was never authorized by the voters.

Let’s not double down on a terrible project by siphoning money behind taxpayers’ backs. Our roads are crumbling and I keep hearing that we need higher gas taxes, higher registration fees, to pay for these desperately needed repairs. If it’s really desperate, why are we going to waste a hundred billion dollars on this rail project?

High Speed Rail is a disaster that robs money from better, more useful infrastructure projects and I’m extremely disappointed my colleagues passed this bill out of the Senate.

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September Is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

Senator Gaines presents Senate Concurrent Resolution 145 to Bill Doss with the California Prostate Cancer Coalition.
Senator Gaines presents Senate Concurrent Resolution 145 to Bill Doss with the California Prostate Cancer Coalition.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and I was pleased to have Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 145 pass out of the legislature that encourages increased awareness of the disease and the importance of early detection and treatment.

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time for men to talk with their health care providers about this disease so that they can make informed decisions about maintaining their prostate health. In California, approximately 17,240 men are predicted to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, and, of this number, approximately 3,050 men are predicted to die of this disease. Although prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men, when detected early it also boasts some of the highest survival rates. 

For information and resources on prostate cancer, visit the California Prostate Cancer Coalition at www.prostatecalif.org.

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Back-To-School Tax Tips

According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, parents of K-12 students expect to spend an average of $630 per child during the 2016-2017 back-to-school season-that’s nearly $2,000 for a family with three children. College students, or their parents, will spend about $900 on back-to-college shopping. That’s a pretty big hit to most family budgets.

During this year’s legislative session, I authored Senate Bill 1210, which would have created a two-day sales tax holiday on school supplies. It would have saved families statewide about $12 million. Unfortunately, Democrats let the bill die, which means families won’t get the tax savings the bill promised. However, there are many tax breaks currently available for education-related expenses. You should consult a financial adviser or tax preparer to see if you qualify for any of the tax breaks described below.

Before School, After School, or Summer Childcare Tax Credit.

  • You may qualify for a tax credit between 20% to 35% of expenses you pay for before school, after school, or qualified summer-program childcare. The percentage is based on a limit of $3,000 in childcare expenses for a single filer or $6,000 for a joint filer. Click here for more information.

Coverdell Education Savings Account.

  • You can use a Coverdell Education Savings Account to pay tuition and fees at a religious, public, or private K-12 school or college.
  • Tax-deferred funds can be used to pay for books, required school supplies, computers, or even tutoring.
  • Uniforms and transportation fees are eligible if they are required by a K-12 school. Room and board expenses are eligible for college students.

529 Plan ― Tax-Free Savings for College, Vocational, or Trade Programs.

  • You can make tax-free contributions to a 529 savings account and earn tax-free interest or investments as your account grows.
  • You can use the account to pay college, trade school, or vocational program expenses.
  • You can open a 529 account for each person in your family. There is no age limit, which can be useful if someone in your family needs to train for a different job because of layoffs or a career change.
  • You may be able to use the gift tax exclusion to put as much as $28,000 per year in a 529 account, which reduces your income and increases tax-free savings at the same time. Click here for more information.

Student Loan Interest Deduction.

  • If your income is less than $85,000, or $160,000 as a joint filer, you may be able to deduct as much as $2,500 in interest on student loans. The less you make, the greater your deduction.

The American Opportunity Credit.

  • If you make less than $90,000, or $180,000 as a joint filer, you can receive up to $2,500 in tax credits for each student in your family during four years of their undergraduate or graduate education.
  • You may receive a tax credit up to $1,000 per student even if you don’t owe taxes.
  • But, you can’t use this credit with many other kinds of education-related tax savings.

The Lifetime Learning Credit.

  • If you make less than $65,000, or $130,000 as a joint filer, you can receive a tax credit up to $2,000 for tuition and fees paid in an undergraduate or graduate program. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit for an eligible student in an eligible educational program.

You also may be able to claim tax benefits with Education Savings BondsEmployer-Paid Educational Assistance, or a Business Deduction for Work-Related Education

The important thing to remember is that it’s never too early or too late to save for an education…and it’s important to hunt for ways that education expenses can lower your tax bill.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park

Park Superintendent Steve Gibbons and National Park Service colleagues receive a Senate Certificate of Recognition from Senator Gaines in celebration of Lassen Volcanic National Park's 100th anniversary.
Park Superintendent Steve Gibbons and National Park Service colleagues receive a Senate Certificate of Recognition from Senator Gaines in celebration of Lassen Volcanic National Park’s 100th anniversary.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a hidden gem in our first Senate District. I was pleased to provide a Senate Recognition of the Park, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. I tip my hat to Park Superintendent Steve Gibbons, who is doing a great job of leading his team.

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Fire Prevention Grants

CAL FIRE recently announced it will be awarding nearly $16 million for fire prevention grants to local fire departments and fire safe councils to reduce the threat of large wildfires. The 2016-2017 State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund and tree mortality grants are aimed at reducing the threat wildfires as well as dead and dying trees in and around communities within the State Responsibility Area (SRA).

The 2016-2017 CAL FIRE grants have a one-time appropriation of $10 million dollars that is intended to address the risk and potential impact of wildfire and dead and dying trees on habitable structures in the SRA. The grants also provide a one-time allocation of six million dollars for fire prevention projects that are not limited to the SRA. The target audiences for the grants include, but are not limited to, local government agencies, fire districts and fire safe councils to augment recent fire prevention projects.

The grant amount will be limited to a maximum of $200,000 per project. This will allow for broad distribution of grant funds to local government agencies and organizations throughout the State. The 2016-2017 grant applications are due September 28, 2016, by 3 p.m.

CAL FIRE is encouraging a wide range of applicants throughout the state to apply for this funding. Interested parties can get more information at CAL FIRE’s grants webpage at: http://www.fire.ca.gov/grants/grants.php.

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