Elected this month to the Senate after spending six years in the Assembly, the Republican has decided to forego the per diem given to legislators to defray rent, food and other costs incurred during the legislative session.
Gaines, who lives less than 25 miles from the Capitol, said his decision stemmed from the severity of the state's multibillion-dollar budget gap and the need for everyone involved to tighten their belt.
"I think at this time things are so bad financially that we need to do everything we can to try to balance our budget," Gaines said. "We all ought to be helping out and figuring out ways that we can find savings."
Per diem supplements a legislative salary of $95,291. No pension funds are provided. Gaines rejected his Assembly car allowance last year.
Gaines said his practice regarding per diem while serving in the Assembly was similar to that of the late state Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, who said each year that he would accept the money but give it to charity.
Gaines said he donated the bulk of his Assembly per diem - "probably two-thirds" - to charitable causes.
In the Senate, Gaines is filling the Senate seat left vacant last July by the death of Cox last July. It covers portions of Placer and Sacramento counties and stretches from Mono County to the Oregon border.
In the GOP primary for the seat won by Gaines, opponent Roger Niello criticized him for identifying himself as a fiscal conservative while taking per diem that typically is rejected by Sacramento-area lawmakers.
Niello, a termed-out Republican assemblyman from Fair Oaks, did not accept per diem during his six-year stint in the Legislature.
Gaines' decision to reject per diem comes at a time when his wife, Beth Gaines, is considering whether to run for the Assembly seat he vacated, representing Alpine and parts of Placer and Sacramento counties.
Political considerations did not enter into his decision to reject the stipend for living expenses, Gaines said. He declined to say whether he would accept per diem if the state's budget outlook brightens.
"I'm not sure how I'll handle it in the future," he said. "I just know at this state that we need to do everything we can to reduce the bottom line.
PHOTO: Ted Gaines in 2008. Brian Baer, The Sacramento Bee, 2008