Governor's Revised Fire Tax Fleeces Rural Californians

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rural Californians are already having it tough trying to make ends meet in this difficult economy.  Just like suburban and urban residents, we are trying to spend our limited dollars wisely.  But unlike them, we are faced with paying a new fire tax that is unfair, unconstitutional and unnecessary.

As most North State residents know by now, Governor Brown signed a bill in July passed by legislative Democrats that imposes a tax of up to $150 per structure in "State Responsibility Areas" located primarily in rural and unincorporated parts of the state.  The state fire board recently passed emergency regulations that set the tax starting at $70 to $90 per structure.  Democrats say the tax (which they call a fee) is needed to help fight wildfires in regions such as ours.

However, their misleading argument has no basis in fact.  The fire tax is nothing more than double taxation for many communities because they already pay local taxes for fire protection that are on top of the services provided by CalFire.  I pointed out that the tax was unconstitutional because voters approved Proposition 26 last year.  That measure required new fees that benefit the public broadly to pass by a two-thirds vote of the legislature or by local voters.  Democrats instead passed the tax with a simple majority.

With the new fire tax barely weeks old, Governor Brown and others are now having second thoughts.  Unfortunately for us, they think it is too little and now want to raise the tax to no less than $175 per home and $25 for each subsequent building or structure on owned land.

Even worse, they also want to tax land at up to $1 per acre.

This "revised" fire tax proposal is an absolute travesty because it is unnecessary.  If you move beyond the Democrats' rhetoric of ensuring public safety and making rural homeowners pay their "fair share" for firefighting costs, you will see it is just another budget gimmick.  That is because the Democrats passed a state spending plan that seized money from the firefighting budget to pay for big government programs such as welfare.  Then they rammed through the fire tax in the legislature to help fill the gap. 

When given the opportunity to cut spending in less critical areas and to require public employee unions to chip in just a little bit more to help the state out of its budget mess, Democrats refused. 

The only responsible and fair thing that the state can do now is to repeal the fire tax entirely, as it is nothing more than a new way to get more of your money for Sacramento.  By no reckoning or no admission does it improve the safety of the citizens who live in State Responsibility Areas.  It does however increase the size and overreach of government, and that is why it must be repealed.

To that end, I have joined Assemblyman Jeffries as principal co-author of a measure to repeal the fire tax.  Additionally, I am supporting a referendum of this bill and a lawsuit by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers. We will fight hard in the coming days and weeks to show why this tax hurts rural Californians and does nothing to improve the state's budget situation.

While we will push hard for repeal, our efforts are not enough.  If you think the fire tax is unfair and unnecessary, I urge you to contact the Governor at (916) 445-2841 and let him know of your thoughts.  Only when homeowners stand up and say "enough is enough" will Sacramento start to listen about how unfair this tax really is.