Calif. Lawmakers Fight Wildland Fire Fee Law

Calif. Lawmakers Fight Wildland Fire Fee Law

08 September 2011

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USA — In a fight to repeal a new state law they call “half-baked” and a “double taxation,” Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and Sen. Doug LaMalfa are backing Assembly Bill 42X.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the State Responsibility Area Fire Fee this summer, which charges rural land owners $150 per structure for an annual wildfire protection fee.

“It is nothing more than a new way to get more money for government,” Nielsen, R-Gerber, said in a statement.

“By no reckoning or no admission does it improve the safety of the citizens who live in state responsibility areas. It does increase the size and overreach of government and that’s why it must be repealed.”

Just weeks after approving the fire tax, which according to LaMalfa, R-Richvale, amounts to double taxation for residents who already fund local fire protection districts, Brown and legislative Democrats are working to increase the tax even more through another bill clarifying ABX1 29, and extending the definition of structure to mean any standing building, not just those inhabited by humans.

LaMalfa noted that the majority-vote tax increase was also legally questionable in light of 2010’s Proposition 26, the ballot measure which requires a two-thirds vote for any increase in fees or taxes.

The fire suppression and prevention bill passed the Assembly on a 52-26 vote, and the Senate with a 23-16 vote, and was labeled as an urgency measure, but not a tax levy.

Proponents of the fee say it will bring in nearly $50 million a year for the state and help fund the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

During 2009, CalFire said it fought 4,657 wildland fires at a fiscal cost of $256 million. These figures include both CalFire state responsibility areas and local jurisdictions under CalFire contract.

When he signed the bill into law in July, Brown said it would “ensure property owners in developed wildland areas pay for a portion of the fire and emergency response service they receive.”

In a written statement to the Assembly, he stated, “As a result of population increases and urban development in state responsibility areas in recent decades, there has been a significant increase in state costs associated with fire protection in state wildland areas.”

LaMalfa blames the state on the current condition of the wildland areas and the increased costs of fighting fires.

“The devastating wildfires California has faced in recent years are a result of the state’s mismanagement of public lands, not rural residents going about their lives,” he said in a statement. “Penalizing Californians for the state’s bad fiscal policy won’t prevent fires, and repealing this tax sends a message that the government must get its act together.”

“Our bill, A.B. 42X, will roll back the double taxation on homeowners and force the state to make honest spending choices with the taxpayer dollars it already has,” LaMalfa added.

“This tax on rural residents fails to generate the revenue supporters claimed. Many Californians already pay for their own local fire protection, but this plan charges them again for services they may never receive.”

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