As a member of Congress, I have the honor of representing California’s San Joaquin Valley. One of my top priorities in Congress is building a stronger and healthier Valley, and I wanted to share with you what we have been doing in Congress that directly affects our Valley.
Supporting Commonsense Tax Reform Proposals
As Congress works on tax reform, it is critical that any reform benefits hard working, middle-class families. That is why I wrote to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, urging them to make no changes to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. The SALT deduction ensures the income of residents is not taxed twice, once by the state or local government and then again by the federal government. The deduction saved money for over 133,000 families in Fresno, Merced, and Madera counties in 2015. Under the new tax bill, those in our district who claimed a SALT deduction will see on average $7,517 less in the SALT deduction than they were able to claim in 2015. Any tax reform package should ensure that, if the SALT deduction is eliminated in order to simplify the tax code, other changes to the code be put in place to ensure that taxes are not raised on any middle-class families across our Valley and our country.
Additionally, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) has been incredibly successful in helping working families escape poverty and achieve greater self-sufficiency. In 2015 alone, the CTC lifted 2.8 million people – including 1.6 million children – out of poverty. It is critical that the CTC is protected in any tax reform package, and I sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging them to reject any reductions to the CTC.
As I have long said, the tax code is too complex and limits incentives for businesses and individuals to invest in the American economy. I stand ready to work with my colleagues to reform the tax code to make it a fairer, simpler code that drives economic growth, makes sense for every American, and does not add to our national deficit. Today, America’s national debt is over $20 trillion. The House tax bill would add, at a minimum, $1.5 trillion to our national debt. Increasing our debt will slow wage growth and the growth of our economy as well as lead to fewer jobs and higher interest rates. We cannot saddle future generations with our debt. We must put our families, communities, farms, and small businesses first when considering any changes to the tax code.
Years of forest land mismanagement has contributed to the rise of catastrophic wildfires, the devastation of which we know all too well in California and other western states. The root of this problem is our inability to manage our forests due to complex congressional budgeting rules. These rules result in the money Congress directs to prevent wildfires through forest management to instead be spent to fight these fires. This leads to an endless cycle of neglected forests creating more destructive fires, which then further hampers the ability to use management tools to harvest trees and clear underbrush. The U.S. Forest Service has spent more than $2.3 billion on fire suppression in the 2017 fiscal year, the most ever spent in a single year to fight wildfires. Almost $576 million of this nearly $2.3 billion was originally designated for forest management activities. While not perfect, I voted in favor of the Resilient Federal Forests Act earlier this month to address some of the weaknesses in the current national forest management system, including this endless cycle caused by the current budgetary rules. More effective management will not only better protect our communities from these fires, it will also provide increased water supply reliability and improved water quality. It is my hope that we can work together to improve the legislation in the Senate, and that, with improvements, it will ultimately be signed into law.
Keeping Our National Parks Accessible to the Public
Our nation’s public lands are a precious resource for our communities, and they present remarkable opportunities for recreation and conservation activities. We in the San Joaquin Valley understand just how valuable these lands are and how important it is for all Americans to have affordable access to them. That is why I was disappointed to hear that the Department of Interior is considering steep raises in fees for 17 national parks, including our local gem and the crown jewel of the National Park System, Yosemite National Park. Under the proposal, peak season cost-per-vehicle could increase from $25-30 to $75, and per-person fees could increase from $10-14 to $30. While I support the goal of tackling the serious maintenance our parks need, shifting the cost to visitors is the wrong approach. Access to these parks needs to remain affordable for current visitors and for future generations, which is why I have asked Interior Secretary Zinke not to move forward with these proposed fee increases and instead support alternative proposals to address the serious maintenance backlog.
Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
The crisis surrounding opioid abuse and addiction has been wreaking havoc in communities across our nation for years. These powerful drugs have hurt far too many of our neighbors, families, and, especially, young people. From first responders, to local law enforcement, to elected officials, we all have a role to play in helping combat this crisis. That is why I voted with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass the bipartisan INTERDICT Act, which authorizes $9 million to give U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the tools they need to screen for opioids that are being illegally smuggled into the United States. This bill will help save lives and ensure that CBP, as the first line of defense in this crisis, we need to keep our communities safe. It is my hope that the U.S. Senate will quickly pass this bill so it can be signed into law as soon as possible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter update. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me regarding any federal issues of your concern. To stay up-to-date on the work I am doing in Congress, please visit my website at costa.house.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter here. You can also follow my work and events in our Valley on my Facebook page and twitter account.