Leave it to Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature to come up with a way to raise $50 million a year from rural homeowners who live in areas served by CalFire with a new state responsibility area fire fee. But here’s the real rub — CalFire won’t spend any of that money actually fighting a wildfire anywhere across this great state of ours. Instead the money goes to fire prevention activities.
The State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, stacked with Brown appointees, approved the fee last week after the Legislature failed to provide additional direction to clean up AB 29, the bill that authorized the fee.
The Regional Council of Rural Counties analyzed the bill earlier this year and reported the state will levy up to $150 per structure intended for human habitation, including mobile homes in areas served by CalFire. Residents who live within the jurisdiction of another fire agency will receive a $35 discount — making the fee $115. The state responsibility area fee will be adjusted relative to inflation starting in 2013. No other structures such as barns, sheds, etc. will be subject to the fee. Nearly 90 percent of the estimated 850,000 residential structures outside city boundaries or federally protected areas, for which the state is responsible, are expected to qualify for the discount.
RCRC represents 30 of the state’s 58 counties, and its membership opposes the fee. Plumas County is a member of RCRC. Ted Gaines, Plumas County’s representative in the state senate, opposes the fee. Dan Logue, Plumas County’s representative in the Assembly, has co-authored AB X1 45 — legislation that seeks to repeal the state responsibility area fee.
Opponents of the fee argue the state is simply trying to balance its budget on the backs of rural taxpayers. They also argue the tax is unfair because many of these homeowners already pay local taxes to other fire protection agencies: in effect, homeowners are being double-taxed for services they already receive. They also point out it costs CalFire more to fight fires in urban areas than rural areas.
In addition, the legislation authorizing the fee may not survive several expected court challenges. The opponents argue the fee is unconstitutional because of Proposition 26, approved by the voters last year. That measure requires that new fees that benefit the public broadly must pass by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or local voters.
Don’t look now, but Logue’s website reports the administration now wants to increase the fee to $175 per home and $1 per acre.
We encourage our supervisors to join with RCRC, Gaines and Logue in protesting this unfair (don’t-call-it-a-tax) fee.