Gun law an issue in State Senate campaign

Destino faults Ortt for ‘simplistic message’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 October 2014
When Rob Ortt goes on the campaign trail, his first order of business tends to be railing against the SAFE Act, the state’s controversial gun control law passed in January 2013.

Ortt says he will work for the law’s repeal if he is elected state senator.

“We need someone who will go to Albany and fight for your Constitutional rights,” Ortt told about 300 people Friday at the Orleans County Fall Republican Rally. “ We need someone to fight for your second amendment rights which are under attack by this governor and his administration in Albany.”

Rob Ortt


Ortt, the North Tonawanda mayor, notes he has an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and SCOPE (Shooters Committee On Political Education) and has been endorsed by the NY State Rifle and Pistol Association.


He criticized his opponent, Johnny Destino, for having his SCOPE rating downgraded from an A to a C-minus. SCOPE made that decision after Destino voiced support for some SAFE Act provisions and aligned himself with pro-SAFE Act politicians.

“It is a clear conflict of interest for Johnny Destino to enthusiastically accept the endorsement of pro-SAFE Act officials, while telling us he supports the Constitution, and resulted in SCOPE lowering his rating to a C-," said John Peracciny, Co-Chairman of Niagara County SCOPE.

Ortt’s campaign issued a press release about Destino’s downgraded rating with the comments from the SCOPE official.

Destino says he would have voted against the SAFE Act mainly because of the legislative process, where the law was passed without a proper vetting.

However, he sees merits in some of the legislation, such as enhanced penalties for shooting first responders and for bringing weapons onto school property illegally.

“That entire campaign has been, ‘The SAFE Act is bad, vote for me,’” Destino said about Ortt. “He says his first act as senator would be to sign the bill repealing the SAFE Act. It is going nowhere. I find it offensive that they present a simplistic message.”

Destino, the Democratic endorsed candidate, faulted the Senate Republicans for not standing in the way of the SAFE Act and Common Core, legislation Ortt opposes and has made his top rallying cries on the campaign trail.

“Nothing happened in New York State for the last 50 years without the Senate Republicans going along,” Destino said. “This is another instance where Common Core came along, the state accepted the Race to the Top funds and pushed it through without getting it right.”


Ortt and Destino both say teachers and parents need more input in Common Core. Destino, an attorney in Niagara Falls, is a member of the Boards of Education for Niagara Falls and the Orleans-Niagara BOCES. He said the state botched the implementation of Common Core.

“They mandated that teachers test their students on Common Core curriculum before the curriculum was even in place,” he said. “This requires a foresight that a lot of our career politicians have lost. They’re looking to rush to the next piece of legislation so they can pat themselves on the back without understanding the impact it will have on children, educators and local school boards.”


Ortt said Common Core should be repealed.

“It has been implemented wrong,” he told Republicans at the rally on Friday. “It is a big government, one size fits all solution and it was done without parental involvement and without teacher involvement. I’m all for standards. I think we need standards. But we need standards that make sense.”

The two candidates both want more state funding directed to rural school districts.

“We need to make sure less funding goes downstate and more funding comes upstate, especially for the rural schools,” Ortt said.


Destino said the state cut funding to rural districts, trying to force them to draw down on their fund balances. It has weakened the financial position of districts, and forced many to reduce staff and programs.

He said he would be a strong advocate for public schools, pressing the state on its mandate to provide a free and equitable education.


Ortt, a combat veteran, has the endorsement of Unshackle Upstate and other pro-business groups. He said easing the tax burden on businesses and getting more low-cost power to companies can help the local economy.

He also said farmers tell him they worry about a bill in Albany that would force them to pay overtime wages to farmworkers after 40 hours of work a week. That bill has passed the Assembly, but hasn’t been approved in the State Senate.

“This is obviously introduced by somebody who has never been on a farm or talked to a farmer,” he said. “The day this bill passes they will put their property up for sale. They surely won’t pass it on to their children. You can’t grow crops on Wall Street so I don’t know where they think they will get the stuff from.”

The Republicans have a narrow advantage in the Senate. If the Senate goes into Democrat control, Ortt said downstate Democrats will approve the farm legislation, and other job-killing regulations and burdens for upstate New York.

Destino said the Republican majority in the Senate has largely gone along with the Democrats. He thinks local legislators shouldn’t demonize the Democrats, especially Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor has directed state resources to lift the Western New York economy, especially the “Buffalo Billion.” Destino said the success of that initiative should lead to more attention from Cuomo and the state.

Destino wants to see added state resources directed to Orleans and Niagara counties, which wrestle with high unemployment and high taxes.

“You can’t cut off all ties to the governor who is the first one in 40 years to put serious investment into the Western New York economy,” Destino said. “I think that level of cooperation that we see in Erie County with Mayor Brown (of Buffalo), Sen. Tim Kennedy, Assemblyman Sean Ryan is really transforming the landscape of the local economy in Buffalo. In Niagara County and Orleans County we need to really push for the Buffalo Billion program to germinate and help revive what’s really been a down economy for the better part of two decades.”


The low-cost electricity from the Niagara Power Project could be a bigger asset to the region, Destino said. He would like to develop a local grid so all businesses and residents would benefit from reduced energy costs.

He would also push for Broadband in the rural communities, so residents and school districts aren’t at a disadvantage to well-connected peers.


Ortt and Destino will debate today at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Earl Brydges Library, 1425 Main St., Niagara Falls. The are vying to succeed George Maziarz, who is retiring as senator for the 62nd District.


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Republicans honor Maziarz, who is retiring from State Senate

Photos by Tom Rivers
George Maziarz receives a standing ovation during the Orleans County Republican Fall Rally on Friday at Hickory Ridge Country Club in Holley.


Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 25 October 2014
HOLLEY – For nearly two decades George Maziarz has been a ubiquitous presence in Orleans County, appearing at numerous fire department banquets, community parades, ribbon-cuttings and many other events.

Maziarz, a state senator since 1995, also worked hard for the county behind the scenes, advocating for residents and local officials, trying to bring state resources into the community.

“We’re going to miss him for lots and lots of reasons,” State Assemblyman Steve Hawley told about 300 Republicans at the fall rally. “He’s known as the hardest working senator in Albany.”

Maziarz is retiring from the State Senate and from nearly four decades of public service that started when he was appointed city clerk in North Tonawanda at age 25. The Niagara County resident said he won’t miss the frequent drives to Albany. He wants more time for his wife Beverly and their family.

Maziarz said he will remain a frequent presence in Orleans County, connecting with friends and helping to elect Republicans.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

The Republican Party dedicated its fall yearbook to Maziarz on Friday and announced a plaque will hang in his honor in the County Legislature chambers.

Maziarz was credited with helping advance many projects in the county, including the construction of the $90 million ethanol plant in Medina by Western New York Energy. Maziarz said he tried to direct more low-cost hydropower allocations to projects in the county.

He made special note of Camp Rainbow in the Town of Ridgeway. Maziarz and several state legislators secured state funds for the camp, which is owned and operated by The Arc of Orleans County.

“Camp Rainbow is a little piece of Heaven right here in Orleans County,” Maziarz said. “God’s work is being done there.”

The Republican Party is backing Rob Ortt, the North Tonawanda mayor, to succeed Maziarz in the Senate. Ortt is challenged by Johnny Destino, an attorney and member of the boards of education for Niagara Falls and the Orleans-Niagara BOCES.

Rob Ortt addresses Orleans County Republicans on Friday during the fall rally.

Ortt has been North Tonawanda’s mayor for nearly five years. He served in the National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan from March to December 2008. Prior to being elected mayor, he served as the city’s treasurer and then clerk-treasurer.

“He’s made the right decisions,” Maziarz said about Ortt. “That’s why I felt very comfortable stepping aside.”

Ortt told Repblicans he will work to repeal the SAFE Act, a controversial gun control measure passed in January 2013. He also said he would work to get rid of Common Core in schools.

The capitol needs more conservative voices from Upstate New York, Ortt said
He told the group he would be an advocate for farmers, small business owners and Constitutional rights.

The group was also addressed by Rob Astorino, the candidate for governor, and Congressman Chris Collins. Collins, after a bitterly fought election win two years ago over Kathy Hochul, faces a little known challenger in Jim O'Donnell, a Buffalo police officer.


Jane Corwin of Clarence also spoke at the rally. Her district includes the Town of Shelby in Orleans County. She isn’t opposed this election.

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia has served in the Assembly for nearly nine years. He touted his perfect pro-business voting record. Unshackle Upstate has given him a perfect 100 for each of the past six years. Hawley said he is the only candidate with that distinction over six years.

He faces a challenge on Nov. 4 from Libertarian Party candidate Mark Glogowski of Hamlin.

Bob Antonacci, the Onondaga County comptroller, is running for state comptroller against incumbent Tom DiNapoli. If elected Antonacci would be the first state comptroller who is a certified public accountant. He said he has the skills to watch over taxpayers’ money.

Several candidates for State Supreme Court also attended the fall rally, including Frederick Marshall, Paul Wojtaszek, Jeannette Ogden and Dennis Ward.


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GOP candidate for governor says campaign ‘peaking at the right time’

Astorino says he will take aim at taxes, SAFE Act, Common Core

Photos by Tom Rivers
Rob Astorino, the Republican Party candidate for governor, addresses about 300 people Friday night during the Republican Party Fall Rally. He was joined at the head table by, pictured from left: Beverly Maziarz, her husband State Sen. George Maziarz, and State Assemblyman Steve Hawley.


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 October 2014
HOLLEY – A crowd of 300 attended the Orleans County Republican Fall Rally on Friday night, and they were told to work hard to get out the vote on Nov. 4, especially for Rob Astorino, the candidate for governor against incumbent Andrew Cuomo.

“We are peaking at the right time,” Astorino told the Republicans in Orleans County. “This race will come down to Upstate New York. The dirty secret here is New York City is not going to vote this year. It’s going to be a very quiet election in New York City, which means every vote Upstate matters more than you know.”

Cuomo has a 21-point lead over Astorino, 54 to 33 percent, in a Siena poll released on Wednesday. (Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins is eroding some Cuomo support with 9 points in the poll.)

Astorino said he has been narrowing the gap, and he expects Republicans and Conservatives to show up big for the election.

“The mighty will be cast down from their throne,” Astorino told the GOP crowd at Hickory Ridge Country Club. “That’s going to happen on Nov. 4.”

Astorino has been an underdog before. He is county executive of Westchester County, which has a big enrollment edge for Democrats. He overcame that to win in Westchester, and he said his broad support has helped him reduce county spending and promote job growth in Westchester County.

Astorino said he would push to reduce taxes, repeal the SAFE Act for gun control and also get rid of the Common Core in schools.

“This race is much closer than anybody knows,” Astorino said. “There is one person who knows how close it is besides me and that’s Andrew Cuomo. He has spent already $30 million in this race, $30 in pure negative, false ads. Have you seen the soup commercial? He wouldn’t have spent half of that if he didn’t have to. He knows what we know. New York City is going to be quiet. Upstate New York is going to be our country. It’s going to matter the suburbs, where I am from.”

Rob Astorino addresses the GOP crowd after being introduced by Ed Morgan, the Orleans County Republican Party chairman.

Astorino flew back home after addressing the crowd at Hickory Ridge. He said he will be up early Saturday to campaign in Long Island.


“If we win the suburbs, we win the race,” he said.

Ed Morgan, the Orleans County Republican Party chairman, praised Astorino for working so hard in the race. Morgan said the candidate has proven he can connect with voters from all parties and get things done in public office.

Orleans County Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by about a 2 to 1 ratio. Astorino said he will need a big effort at the polls from Republicans.

“You are ready to roar,” he said in his speech. “The silent majority is waking up in this state. Enough of the high taxes, enough of the terrible economy, enough of the absolute corruption coming out of Andrew Cuomo’s Office. We can fix that because we shouldn’t settle for that. This is New York and we should be the best at everything because we once were.”

Congressman Chris Collins also urged Republicans to reach out to their friends on Election Day. Collins said Cuomo has failed to inspire voters and is vulnerable.

“Voter turnout can turn this election,” Collins said. “I’ve said it before: No one likes Andrew Cuomo, not even his mom. Honest, that’s not even a joke. This is a nasty person.”


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Astorino will address Orleans Republicans on Friday

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 October 2014
HOLLEY – Rob Astorino, the Republican Party candidate for governor, will be in Orleans County on Friday for the Fall Republican Rally at Hickory Ridge Country Club.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive, trails Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the polls, but Ed Morgan, the Orleans County GOP leader, believes Astorino could still pull off the upset victory. George Pataki was a little known state legislator when he defeated Cuomo’s father, Mario, in 1994.

“He’s ahead in the polls compared to where George Pataki was,” Morgan said this morning.

Morgan sees Republicans making a strong push for Astorino, and also sees Cuomo losing votes to Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Michael McDermott of the Libertarian Party.

“The secondary line candidates will pull votes from Cuomo and that will help Rob,” Morgan said.

The GOP candidate for comptroller, Robert E. Antonacci, will also be at the Republican Rally, which begins with a reception at 6 p.m. followed by dinner at 7 p.m. Antonacci is the Onondaga County comptroller. He faces incumbent Tom DiNapoli.


Candidates for State Legislature also are expected to speak at the rally, including Rob Ortt for State Senate and Steve Hawley for State Assembly.

The Republican Party also plans to recognize State Sen. George Maziarz, who is retiring after 19 years in the State Legislature.

For information about tickets to the rally, call Morgan at 732-7270.


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Orleans unemployment rate falls to 6.0%

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 October 2014
Orleans County’s unemployment dropped from 7.5 percent in September 2013 to 6.0 percent last month, according to the State Labor Department.

The 6.0 percent was down from 6.9 percent in August. The county’s rate is still slightly higher than the state average of 5.6 percent. (The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in September, the lowest level since October 2008, according to the Department of Labor.)

In Orleans County, there were 1,100 unemployed people looking for work in September, compared to 17,000 in the workforce. A year earlier, there were 400 more people working in Orleans County – 17,400. There were also 1,400 unemployed looking for jobs, according to the DOL.

Fifteen of the 62 counties in the state have unemployment rates at 6.0 or higher. Bronx has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 8.5 percent.

Orleans, even with its improvement from a year ago, still has the highest rate in Western New York. Genesee County, at 4.8 percent, has the lowest rate in WNY. Hamilton County, at 3.8 percent, has the lowest rate in the state.


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Libraries will press county for more money

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 October 2014
ALBION – The four public libraries in Orleans County will ask the County Legislature to up the county contribution to libraries in 2015.

The four libraries currently share $10,000. They would like to see the county give $1 per resident or $42,883. That money would be shared by Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina, Hoag Library in Albion, Community Free Library in Holley and Yates Community Library in Lyndonville.

Representatives from the libraries as well as the Nioga Library System will address county legislators on Wednesday.

“We’d love to see it increased,” said Catherine Cooper, Lee-Whedon director.

Two of the libraries – Lee-Whedon and Yates Community – both completed recent remodeling projects to make the sites more appealing for the public. Hoag is in a new building that opened in July 2012 while the Holley library expanded next door in the Public Square.

The libraries all run community events, from children’s programming to initiatives for adults. Lee-Whedon runs a winter concert series that brings people out into the community.


The libraries have shelves of new books, while offering e-readers and other gadgets.

“We all do our darnedest to keep up with new technology and to make it accessible to the public,” Cooper said.

Matthew Ballard, co-director of the Cobblestone Museum, also is scheduled to address the Legislature on Wednesday afternoon. The museum doesn’t receive any regular county support, although legislators gave the museum $1,000 in county aid last December when the county tapped its contingency account to assist five organizations.


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Orleans approved for $134K grant for dispatching system

Cuomo announces $10 million in 9-1-1 grants statewide
Staff Reports Posted 19 October 2014
Orleans County will receive a $134,050 state grant, part of $10 million the state is giving to support emergency response operations at counties state-wide and New York City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the grants for 57 counties as well as NYC, which all operate 9-1-1 response and emergency service dispatch operations.

“First responders provide a critical service to New Yorkers in every corner of this state, and this funding will help ensure they can respond quickly when an emergency strikes,” Cuomo said. “From extreme weather to roadway accidents and beyond, it is absolutely vital that our emergency personnel receive accurate and timely information when responding to any situation.”

The funding is being administered by the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services through the Public Safety Awareness Points Operations Grant. PSAPs are public facilities where incoming calls for help are received and the dispatching of emergency services is initiated.

Throughout New York State, counties provide the majority of 9-1-1 answering and dispatching operations, and coordinate the services among municipal, county and state responders.

Through the benefit of these sustaining resources, counties can also make greater investments in Next Generation 9-1-1 (or NG-911) technology, which will enable text messaging, data services and improved geo-location for emergency response.


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Purple ribbons by courthouse highlight domestic violence

Photos by Peggy Barringer Posted 16 October 2014
ALBION – Some of the trees by the Orleans County Courthouse have purple ribbons tied around them, symbolic of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The county also has the courthouse dome lighted up in purple at night to show its support for the cause. On Wednesday, many community members also wore purple to promote domestic violence awareness.


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County directs nearly $40K to EDA for business sites

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 October 2014
MEDINA – The Orleans Economic Development Agency has nearly $40,000 to spend for signs, wetlands work and other site improvements for business parks.

The County Legislature last week authorized shifting $38,625 from contingency to the Orleans EDA. That’s on top of the $150,000 the county approved for the agency in 2014.

The money will go towards new signs for the Holley Business Park, the Medina Business Park on Bates Road and the Keppler site, which includes 280 acres of “shovel ready” land on Route 31A in the Town of Shelby.

The signs will make the sites more marketable and appealing to potential developers, EDA officials said Friday. The agency also do some wetlands work and site clean up at the Medina Business Park, which starts on Bates Road and heads west, covering about 120 acres. The agency will also do some wetlands work at the Albion Business Park at Butts Road and Route 31.

“The county has really stepped up for us this year,” said Jim Whipple, EDA chief executive officer.

The EDA has submitted its budget request for 2015 to the county, and asked for $166,500. Paul Hendel, the EDA board chairman, said he and other EDA officials will try to build support for more county aid, as well as support from the towns and villages.

That support could be through in-kind contributions. Hendel noted the Town of Shelby Highway Department recently mowed the Medina Business Park, making the site look more desirable for potential developers.

Hendel said economic development in the community needs to be a total team effort from all of the local municipalities.


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United Way sets $325,000 funding goal for local agencies

Photo by Tom Rivers
Charlie Nesbitt, the honorary chairman for the United Way fund drive, announces a $325,000 goal with Marsha Rivers, executive director for the United Way. Penny Nice, president of Orleans County Adult Learning Services, is pictured at right. OCALS receives funding through United Way.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 October 2014
MEDINA – At a downtown center in Holley, Community Action runs an after-school program that wouldn’t happen without support from the United Way.

Community Action also uses United Way dollars to help run the Main Street Store in Albion, which provides job training and skills to many local residents.

The United Way funding is steady each year, bringing stability to an agency that also relies on grants and other government funding that often varies each year, said Ed Fancher, executive director of Community Action of Orleans & Genesee.

“The grants are hit or miss,” Fancher said. “If we don’t have them we flex the size of the program to meet the resources we have.”

Community Action is one of about 20 agencies that receive funding through the United Way of Orleans County. The United Way kicked off its annual fund-raising campaign this evening and set a goal of $325,000.

The Boy Scouts (Iroquois Trail Council) is one of the funded agencies through United Way. Jim McMullen, the Scout executive, said the United Way dollars help keep down the costs of the Scouting program.

“Unlike other sources, it’s consistent,” he said about the United Way dollars. “We can rely on it every year. It provides programs for families in need. Without it, everything would be higher.”

File photo by Tom Rivers
Boy Scouts and their families are on a fishing expedition at a former quarry on Keitel Road, now owned by the Albion Sportsmen’s Association.

The Iroquois Trail Council serves Scouts in five counties. McMullen said each of those counties contribute funding through the United Way.

He would welcome more money so the Council could expand Scouting programs and push to attract more youths into the program.

“With even another $1,000 you’d have more opportunities to recruit kids in the community,” McMullen said.

Several agency leaders attended the kickoff celebration at Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina. Marsha Rivers started as United Way executive director last month. She said the campaign “is all about building stronger communities.”

Before joining the United Way, she worked for Hospice of Orleans, which provides palliative care for people with advanced illness. Prior to that she worked with younger families through the Care Net Center of Greater Orleans, which offers ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and other resources for families.

She thanked a dedicated United Way board of directors for giving its time to support the United Way mission, and the many residents and businesses for contributing money to the campaign. Those funds will help the agencies provides services to residents.

“Everybody here is a giver, whether you’re giving money or time,” said Charlie Nesbitt, the honorary campaign chairman and former state assemblyman. “It’s about individuals and their needs. That’s why we will make a meaningful commitment to those that need us.”

Jodi Gaines, president and CEO of Claims Recovery Financial Services in Albion, serves on the United Way board. She has been pushing the United Way campaign for more than 20 years.

“It’s about helping the community,” Gaines said. “I know these agencies are top notch and well run.”


Some of the funded United Way agencies include 4-H and Cornell Cooperative Extension, Camp Rainbow through the Arc of Orleans, Meals on Wheels, Boy Scouts, Community Action’s Main Street store and after-school program, Community Kitchen at Christ Episcopal Church in Albion, GCASA and Students United for Positive Action, Girl Scouts and Hospice of Orleans.

Other funded agencies include Just Friends, Medina Youth Commission, Ministry of Concern, Habitat for Humanity, Orleans County Adult Learning Service, PathStone Domestic Violence Shelter, Regional Action Phone, Senior Citizens of WNY, and the Orleans County YMCA.

For more information, click here.


(Editor's note: Tom Rivers is married to Marsha Rivers, the United Way executive director.)


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County expands tax exemption for low-income senior citizens

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 October 2014
ALBION – The County Legislature unanimously voted on Wednesday to expand the income threshold for senior citizens to qualify for a discount on their county taxes.

Residents 65 and older currently are eligible for a discount if they earn less than $19,200 a year. Beginning with the March 1, 2015 tax rolls, the threshold has been raised to $21,200.

Right now the county offers 50 percent off for seniors with household incomes up to $13,500. The sliding scale exemption drops to 20 percent off for seniors with annual incomes between $18,300 and $19,199. It's 0 percent for seniors with incomes at $19,200 or above.

The new schedule gives senior citizens 50 percent off if they earn less than $15,500 and then the discount drops 5 percent in a sliding scale to 20 percent before being capped at $21,200.

There are 313 seniors who currently receive the exemption. The county hasn’t changed the income levels in seven years. Seniors have been getting small increases in Social Security, putting some on the verge of losing the county tax discount, said Dawn Allen, director of the county’s Real Property Tax Services Department.

“We’re trying to maintain the current seniors in the program,” Allen told legislators.

Most of the towns in the county have a similar tax discount program for seniors, capping it at incomes above $21,200, Allen said.

The new proposed schedule includes the following percentage exemptions:

• 50 percent off for incomes up to $15,500;
• 45 percent off for incomes between $15,500 and $16,499;
• 40 percent between $16,500 and $17,499;
• 35 percent between $17,500 and $18,499;
• 30 percent between $18,500 and $19,399;
• 25 percent between $19,400 and $20,299;
• 20 percent between $20,300 and $21,199;
• 0 percent after $21,200.


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