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Sonoma County weighs in on 'fiscal cliff' repercussions

If the country heads over the fiscal cliff Tuesday, Californians will be slapped simultaneously with a slew of federal tax increases and higher state income and sales taxes from Proposition 30.

Absent a last-minute deal, the federal tax increases alone will hit the average family with more than $3,500 in higher taxes in 2013.

“I'm totally worried,” Julie Stites, a 40-year-old nurse practitioner and mother of two from Penngrove, said Friday. “It makes a huge difference to us.”

The increases set to hit Jan. 1 could plunge the nation back into a recession just as it seems to be clawing its way out of a three-year economic morass, said Stites.

“I feel like we're getting kicked again,” she said.

Also, extended federal unemployment benefits are set to expire for 400,000 Californians if no deal is struck.

The benefits have been extended several times as the unemployment rate remained stubbornly high following the last recession. But in November, the state Employment Development Department sent out notices that benefits for more than 6,600 North Coast residents would expire Dec. 29.

In Sonoma County, 4,140 people are set to lose benefits. In Napa County, payments are ceasing for 996 workers. In Lake County 755 people are affected, 728 in Mendocino County.

Officials in Washington continued last-ditch efforts to avert or soften the most damaging measures of the cliff, which in addition to steep tax increases includes about $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts over the next 10 years.

Retired nurse Carol Rivkin of Santa Rosa said she believes a deal will get worked out, if not by Jan. 1 then soon thereafter.

“I still have faith they are going to do it,” said Rivkin, 68.

If they don't, however, Rivkin says she's not sure what the impact would be on her. As a retiree, she doesn't have the same level of income she once did, but she does worry about continuing to qualify for certain tax exemptions, like the mortgage deduction.

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